October 1, 2013

Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Series: Code Name Verity, #2
Published: 2013, Disney Hyperion
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Code Name Verity (my review)
Goodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

Hope is treacherous, but how can you live without it? When you lost hope, you turned into a schmoozichnothing more than a starved mouth and snatching hands that even the guards ignored except when they were counting everybody – or you died.

Elizabeth Wein has done it again. Although, if I'm being perfectly honest with myself here, I didn't expect anything less from the incredibly talented author who wrote Code Name Verity. While both Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity deal with strong female friendships, Allied female pilots, and women placed in unfathomable situations, they tell very different stories. Many of the historical elements of Code Name Verity have been expanded upon more prominently here, and Rose Under Fire could almost be considered to be politically-driven. While Julie and Maddie's story describes some of the suffering that could have happened, the trials and tribulations of Rose and her comrades are more concretely rooted in historical fact.

It is 1944 and the war effort is beginning to slow down, but that knowledge does not deter American Rose Justice from traveling overseas to become an Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) pilot for the Allied Forces. It becomes quickly apparent that Rose, a naive but idealistic aspiring poet with years of experience flying planes but a life of little hardship, has no idea what she volunteered for. Written in an epistolary style, Rose Under Fire recounts Rose's experiences as an ATA pilot, as a prisoner of war, and as a concentration camp survivor, from August of 1944 to December of 1946.

Rose Under Fire is a story about loss, hopelessness, and all forms of suffering. The story opens with Rose's observations from a fellow ATA pilot's funeral. She is supposed to write up a report detailing the accident. There's a bit of guilt on Rose's part, but she admits that she has no idea where to begin and seems to take a more clinical approach. Although Rose has started to realize that serving in the war is nothing like the propaganda she was given back in the States, there's still a curtain that shields her eyes (and her brain) from fully processing all that has been happening in Europe for the past few years. It is only after Rose is captured and sent behind enemy lines that the curtain rises abruptly and Rose loses her naivete for good, forced to adopt a new understanding of humanity's capacity for evil.

Rose Under Fire is not merely the story of a young American's loss of innocence in the face of the horrors of war, however; it is the story of the multitudes of women who were affected by the Axis Powers in the final years of World War II, most especially the prisoners of Ravensbrück women's concentration camp. And this is where the magic of this story lies.

For this is also a story about life, and the extreme measures that people take to survive and to help others survive. Once at Ravensbrück, Rose comes to realize just how petty her concerns and complaints as an Allied pilot truly are. A mislabeled nationality, a few close encounters with doodlebug flying bombs, and scanty rations are nothing compared to what the other women at the camp endured before coming there, and while there. All the women at Ravensbrück have lost something; most have lost everything. Most compelling is the friendship that Rose forms with a number of young Polish girls, referred to as the Rabbits. Due to their nationality, youth, and pure bad luck, these girls have essentially been tortured in the name of "scientific advancement." Their story is horrible enough, but through Rose Wein describes many more of the horrors that awaited women at this concentration camp: daily executions, starvation, lack of medicine, lack of hope.

Rose and her friends do manage to find hope, however, in small acts of rebellion: pocketing extra rations of foods and meds for those who need them most, smuggling out messages with their names, asking Rose to write poems about that elusive concept of hope. The camaraderie that forms between the women is perhaps the only grain of hope that readers can discern from Rose's captivity. They all are suffering, but there's a bit of comfort in the fact that they're together, that they understand what each other is going through.

Rose as a protagonist is not very similar to Julie of Code Name Verity (one of my top fictional narrators, I think), and I missed Julie's witty and unreliable narration. I do think, however, Wein's choice in protagonist for this story is perfect. I had little difficulty in seeing myself through Rose, and I'm sure that many readers can attest to the same. While Rose lived in America, the war was something far-off and distant. While she served as an ATA pilot, the war was still more something she heard of, her own missions kept out of harm's way. Until suddenly they weren't. It's easy to dismiss stories about World War II as old and no longer relevant, and getting easier as fewer and fewer people remain who lived through any of those experiences. Like Rose, through this story readers become exposed to some terrible truths about World War II. Terrible, but so very important.

As I've mentioned many times already, Rose Under Fire is no Code Name Verity. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. For their beautiful writing and focus on important aspects of history, I will read all future works of historical fiction that Elizabeth Wein decides to write.

Rating: 5 stars
author image


Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I absolutely love this one and I'm glad you did too! I've read so many reviews of this and they're all positive, but I feel like I'm the only person who's like Rose more than Julie or Maddie. I think it's something with her being American and having grown up in places where I spent a lot of time growing up.

    1. Maddie and Rose are more or less on the same level for me. I do think Rose is easiest to relate to and the American identification was nice and all, but I liked the challenge and uniqueness of Julie's character personally. Still, though, I did enjoy this one too!

  2. I'm so glad you loved this one, Amanda! I wasn't able to articulate my thoughts as completely on this one, but you captured them perfectly! I absolutely LOVE this review!(: Fantastic job, dear!

    1. Aw thank you, Keertana! I'm so flattered to hear that. :) Wein's books *are* quite difficult to review for some reason or another. Strange, isn't it?

  3. I missed Julie too. I loved her narrative voice. This was a very different story, but I really enjoyed it too..

    1. Yeah, I understand. Now what would be awesome would be a prequel/another story from Maddie's perspective BEFORE the events of CNV when she and Julie are friends hanging out and such. :)

  4. I just skimmed this review, because I plan to read this book soon...if I can work up to it. But it thrills me that you were able to connect to this book so much and that it was able to move you as much as CNV, even though it's a very different sort of story.

    1. Maybe it didn't move me quite as much. Because we did essentially know how it all ended for Rose, whereas Verity and Maddie's fates in CNV were much more up-in-the-air. But I do think this is still a very solid, very good book. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on this, Lauren!

  5. I'm really excited to hear that you loved this one! I bought it as soon as it came out, but I haven't read it yet. I'm planning on doing it soon, so I'm glad to see that you were able to connect to this story and that it focuses on how women are affected and treated during the War.

    1. Me too. It was a good reading experience and I love those. :) I hope you're able to get to it soon, Hannah!


Thank you for taking the time to comment! I strive to make my blog the very best it can possibly be and I appreciate each and every comment on here.