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Code Name Verity was one of my favorite YA titles of 2012, and I was both excited and apprehensive to read Rose Under Fire. I'd call Rose a companion book to Code Name Verity. It also features women who piloted planes during World War II, uses a similar narrative technique and has one crossover character from Code Name Verity. But you don't need to have read Code Name Verity to enjoy and appreciate Rose Under Fire. And I thought the two books are also quite different, each powerful and heartbreaking in a unique way.
Code Name Verity was a story about the bonds of love and friendship, a more closely-focused look at two characters and their relationship in the context of war. Rose Under Fire takes a more wide-angled approach, looking at the incredible suffering endured by Rose in a concentration camp, but also giving the reader insight into what millions of others in other camps endured. In piloting terms (and I'm not a pilot, so bear with my metaphor here) Code Name Verity was an aerobatic book -- daring and dramatic, with a plot that took my breath away. Rose Under Fire was like a flight over a devastated landscape, a trip with more of a solemn and resolute feel.
Each book's title is also telling; Code Name Verity was a book about truth and lies, while Rose Under Fire is a book about a stubborn, thorny plant that survives adverse conditions to bloom again. Both books are technically epistolary stories. If you're a regular blog reader, you may remember that epistolary stories are not my favorite. However, in these two books I think the technique works beautifully. Using fictionalized "documents"to create a work of historical fiction adds to its authenticity and authority. Rose begins her story in work reports, then (and I don't think this is really a spoiler because it's revealed on page 70) Rose is presumably unable to write while she's a prisoner, and we read the rest of her story after the fact through journal entries and poems. This does reduce the suspense the book was able to create, but it's also more believable, given the circumstances. In her afterword and bibliography, Wein explains that Rose Under Fire is based on a real concentration camp and talks a little about her visit there.
Rose Under Fire is a story that touches on the very best and worst of humanity. One of the most moving things to me about Rose Under Fire was the way it highlighted our innate need for connection, our desire to be remembered, our belief in the power of storytelling. It's a story about hopelessness, but also about hope.