Review: Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. Hyperion. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Companion to Code Name Verity.

The Plot: It’s summer of 1944 and Rose Moyer Justice is in England, a pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary.

She’s a pilot, and she’s an American, and she’s only 18, but she’s in the ATA because she’s been flying since she was 12 and her Uncle Roger, “high up in the Royal Engineers,” helped get her a place.

Rose thinks she’s seen the horrors of war. Her friend Celia Forester’s plan crashed, and she grieves. Her other friend Maddy has a war time wedding. Then there are the bombings and the destruction and the fear.

Thanks to Uncle Roger, Rose is flying in France, ferrying a plane back to England. That is when Rose is forced down by the Luftwaffe, captured by the Nazis, and sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp.

Rose is about to discover what real horror is.

The Good: First things first: you don’t have to have read Code Name Verity to read Rose Under Fire. Rose’s friend Maddy is the Maddy from Code Name Verity, and a couple of other people appear, but in terms of plot, there is no connection. Since Rose Under Fire takes place after Code Name Verity, readers will be happy to see Maddy and find out how she’s doing, but the non-Code Name Verity reader won’t be confused.

Rose Under Fire is primarily told by Rose herself. First, in some journal entries from the summer of 1944. Then, there is a handful of correspondence from others that show that Rose is missing, presumed dead. Next, entries beginning in April 1945, with Rose in Paris, having escaped Ravensbruck. The jacket copy tells that Rose is sent to Ravensbruck – no spoiler there – and Rose Under Fire shows how Rose ended up in the concentration camp, what happened to her there, how she survived — and what she does to put her life together after.

Rose is eighteen, young, and prisoned in a place where she doesn’t even really know the language. She heard rumors about Nazi atrocities and dismissed them as propaganda. And, as she puts it, “I hadn’t seen evil. Or, if I had, I didn’t recognize it.” Another thing to know about Rose, in addition to being young, and an American. She gets angry. “I wasn’t upset. I was angry, as mad as I was about everything else.” She also loves poetry and writes some herself. Probably, the last important thing to know about Rose and how she survives: she’s lucky.

Rose is lucky, because she makes friends and connections that will help her survive. First is Elodie, a member of the French Resistance. Later, after Rose is brutally beaten, the “Rabbits” — the Polish women subjected to Nazi “medical” experimentation — befriend her. The reason? To learn English. To learn the poetry she recites. One, Roza, is even younger than Rose. Then there is Irina, a pilot in the Soviet Army, who gets paired up with Rose during a work detail because both are tall.

The Rabbits. I had been aware, in a vague words on paper way, of the Nazi medical experiments. When Rose gets to Ravensbruck, the experiments are over and scarred, mutilated women remain. They live, because in an odd way the current commander is afraid to kill them. It is after D-Day, and while the war in Europe is bloody and not yet over there is a vague fear that they may lose and will have to answer for their crimes. I say vague, because brutality and killings do continue.

Elodie, Roza, Irina. It is because of them that Rose lives. Rose doesn’t just take: no, she also gives, and there are people who live because of Rose’s own actions. When I talk about the friendships; or how other prisoners also tried to help the Rabbits, because of just how badly they were treated; I don’t want to make it sound the wrong way. Like it’s all selflessness and jolly good comradery. No. There is also harshness and cruelty, blood and death, mud and hunger, fear and desperation. For Rose and the others there are two types of survival: physical survival and mental survival. What does it mean, to be in a place like Ravensbruck?

What does it mean, to survive Ravensbruck? To live, after?

I don’t want to give too much away, because while this doesn’t have the type of twists and turns like Code Name Verity, I think that certain plot points are best discovered by the reader than told in a review.

I will say this: Rose Under Fire is as much about the time after Rose’s imprisonment as it is about the imprisonment itself. The final third of the story takes place in 1946 and is called Nuremberg.

Is this a Favorite Book Read in 2013? Yes! Because of how the story is told: Rose, safe in Paris, telling what happened to her. Rose, trying to figure out what “safe” is. Because of Rose. And Roza. And Irina. And the other women in Ravensbruck. And because while it didn’t break my heart in the way that Code Name Verity did, Rose under Fire was just as heartbreaking in its own way.

A brief P.S.: remember my post in January about characters in books getting their periods? Well, yes, Rose has to figure out what to do when in a concentration camp.

Other reviews: Dear Author; Good Books and Good Wine; See Michelle Read (a great discussion, but spoilers! Many spoilers!); The Book Smugglers.

Review: The Way We Fall

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe. Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. 2012. Review from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: It begins with a cough. A sneeze. An itch. A fever. Then, strange behaviour. Finally, death.

Of course, when it begins, when the first handful of people get sick on the island, sixteen year old Kaelyn doesn’t realize what is going on. Neither, really, does anyone else. Not until it’s too late: the island is quarantined, food and medicine are scarce, the doctors and nurses are trying to help people with dwindling supplies and few resources and no idea how to stop it, how to save people. People are dying, people are trapped, people are desperate.

Some people loot stores; others make sure neighbors get enough food. Kaelyn can do little but watch, as her friends and family fall sick.

The Good: The Way We Fall is a dystopian novel that is not set in some strange future, or alternate universe. It’s the here and now. A virus, a quarantine, panic, create a dystopian world in a typical, normal island community.

Kaelyn is a shy sixteen year old, more comfortable around animals than her fellow students. This year, she tells herself, this year she will be friendlier, she will make friends, she will say “hi” and not retreat to her books and nature studies. Of course, as luck would have it, this is the year when the virus hits. Kaelyn is both pushed and pulled. Pushed to go out into the world, to connect with a handful of others who are trying to help on an individual level. Gav, organizing food deliveries. Tessa, scavenging for medicine in empty summer homes. Pulled back into the safety of her home that is no longer safe. Her father, a microbiologist, trying to help contain the contagion. Her mother, struggling to keep some type of normalcy. Her brother Drew and Uncle Emmett, both thinking the only answer is to leave the island.

This is a look at the world while it collapses: the little moments. The day when it’s no longer safe to go to school, the day when there is no work to go to. The moment of realization that it’s no longer safe to walk the streets. Kaelyn has a seven year old niece, and she tries to help maintain some semblance of normalcy for the little girl. It’s a goal that gradually becomes impossible. It’s not just that people are getting sick. It’s also the quarantine, and the isolation, and the violence that takes place. It’s the looters and the gangs that spring up, once any other semblance of law and order disappears.

This is Kaelyn’s story, told in a series of journal like letters to a friend, Leo, who is away at school. Because Kaelyn is just sixteen, we see what she sees, knows what she knows. The bigger details of how her country and the world are handling the virus, what has really happened with the quarantine, and whether it’s escaped to the mainland aren’t told because Kaelyn doesn’t know. She, and apparently her parents, believe that the Internet and phone lines are down because of an accident; I suspect something darker. Kaelyn has some knowledge others don’t; her father is a microbiologist, working at an ocean research center. The politics of the island are vague, but that’s believable because Kaelyn doesn’t know the mayor or others in local government. The military and national initiatives are all screened either through what her father knows (and early on, it’s clear he’s not telling all he knows or suspects) or what the television shows.

Not everyone gets sick, but once someone does get sick, there is very little chance of recovery. Is a cough just a cough? An itch just an itch? I’m hesitant to say too much, but people die. Sometimes from getting sick, but also from the violence that erupts when fear takes over. I’ll say this: it makes me wonder, what would I do.

Kaelyn has returned to the island after living on the mainland for several years. It makes her both and insider and outsider, knowing things but also a stranger. Interestingly, Kaelyn’s father is the mainlander; her mother is the islander; and her father is white and her mother is black. She is the “weird girl whose mom and dad were different colors.” Leo, the friend who she writes to in her journal, is also an islander who doesn’t look like the others: he was adopted from Korea.

I didn’t realize until after I read The Way We Fall,  until I went to the website for the book, that this was first in a series. There is no cliffhanger ending; but it is also not a tidy ending. I look forward to the next book, but I’m also afraid of what the next book will bring. Is it about a community rebuilding? Or has the virus escaped beyond the island borders? Before you eye roll at oh, no, another trilogy, check out the author’s blog post explaining the genesis of the series. Crewe had an idea for a story, and it turns out it was a story that demanded three books to tell it.

Review: Carter’s Big Break

Carter’s Big Break by Brent Crawford. Hyperion. 2010. Brilliance Audiobook. 2011. Narrated by Nick Podehl. Reviewed from audiobook from Brilliance.

The Plot: Will Carter survived his freshman year — he’s got his friends, he’s got his girl, and he even passed all his classes. Sweet! What could be sweeter? How about starring in a movie? You heard me right! In this sequel to Carter Finally Gets It, Carter finds himself starring in in a movie with teen sweetheart, Hilary Idaho.

The Good: Carter, Carter, Carter. As with the first book, I listened to the audiobook narrated by the brilliant Nick Podehl. Podehl does such a terrific job of channeling Carter that I sometimes thought I was carpooling to work as the book played. He captures Carter’s attitude, his bravado, his sweetness, and his general, inevitable tendency to be a total dumbass. Just as important, Podehl had me laughing so hard I was crying. Carter is — well, he’s a teenage boy. He sometimes talks before he thinks. Acts before he thinks. He is often clueless. But, underneath the friendly insults with his friends and his fumbling romance with Abby, he is a good, sweet boy (who would hate me saying so).

I was a little hesitant about the sequel, because it seemed to be a literary equivalent of  The Brady Bunch Hawaiian Bound. Carter’s strength is that he is a typical teenage boy in a typical suburb. Really, I wondered, does it have to have that, well, surrealness added to what is otherwise a very grounded in reality book? Silly me; I  should have paid more attention to the author’s website. See, here’s the thing: Brent Crawford is an actor. Carter’s Big Break is full of details that show Crawford knows the business, and not just from sitting in a movie theatre watching a film. His portrayal of teenage actors and producers and others related to movie making further reflect his insider’s knowledge. At the same time, Crawford doesn’t take the business too seriously; part of the fun is Carter screwing up and the movie director misinterpreting and believing Carter is the next Daniel Day-Lewis or Marlon Brando.

Carter lives in the type of town where a bunch of teenage boys get on their skateboards and bikes and don’t come home until dinner. Despite the Hollywood in this book, the best moments are still ones about friendship, about Carter’s family, about his love for Abby. About Carter’s tendency to do and say the absolute wrong thing. While listening to Podehl, it was easy to picture Carter and his friends — so easy, that I began to wish that these books would be turned into a TV series.

Because sometimes, you just need to laugh so much it hurts. Because Carter is like so many teens, trying to be tough and mature and to know all the answers. Because at the end of the day, there is a bit of dumbass in each of us. This is a Favorite Book  Read in 2011.