Teens' Book of the Month: Rose Under Fire

Author: Elizabeth Wein | Age category: 12-16

Synopsis

Rose Justice is a young American ATA pilot, delivering planes and taxiing pilots for the RAF in the UK during the summer of 1944. She is a budding poet who feels most alive while flying and writing poetry. However, Rose soon discovers that not all battles are fought in the air. From the exhilaration of being the youngest pilot in the British air transport auxiliary, to the aftermath of surviving the notorious Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp, Rose’s story is one of courage in the face of adversity.

Review

This is an unforgettable novel. It will resonate with you for days. It's quite harrowing in places but it makes for a great read as it has moments of tenderness, triumph and interludes of delicate poetry that support the story beautifully. 

Competition

We have 5 copies of Rose Under Fire to be won! To be in with a chance of winning one, just answer this question:

What is the title of Elizabeth Wein's previous book about SOE agents?

Send your answer to Miriam Morris at miriam.morris@scottishbooktrust.com. Competition closes on Sunday 31 August. Entrants outside the UK must cover postage.

 

Q & A with Elizabeth Wein

Did you enjoy the research that you did for this book?

I want to say “yes,” except that most of what I found was tragic, horrific and shocking. The first section of this book was easier to write and research than the second, because Part 1 focuses on the Air Transport Auxiliary in Britain and attacks on Britain by German V-1 flying bombs (aka “doodlebugs” or pilotless planes), and Part 2 focuses on the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbrück. The V-1 research was fascinating—I read and learned a lot about how people dealt with the terror of the V-1s, essentially the first drone warfare, and I remember being struck by some powerful images—London buses with their windows removed so that people wouldn’t be hurt by flying glass if a bomb struck nearby, people having to put signs on their ruined houses marking them “Still Occupied” to discourage looting, a violinist defiantly finishing an aria in a concert as the rattling noise of a bomb approached.

The witness accounts were surprisingly uplifting, full of fierce friendship and defiance and hope.

I was scared of doing the research about Ravensbrück because I was so worried it would be too horrible to read. I put it off as long as I could, wrote the entire first section, and then finally forced myself to pick up one of the survivor memoirs waiting for me. Once I’d started I couldn’t stop. The witness accounts were surprisingly uplifting. Horrific, yes, but full of fierce friendship and defiance and hope. I think the thing to bear in mind is that the only witness accounts we have ARE those of survivors: people who were strong enough, lucky enough, wily enough and who had the necessary support group to survive such unthinkable conditions and experiences. Those who did not survive cannot articulate their experiences—as Primo Levi says, they are the true witnesses. We will never know what they felt and thought.

I also went to visit the memorial site at Ravensbrück and attended a summer school seminar there (an inexpensive and invaluable experience which is open to all European residents), and the discussion and friendships created at that seminar were also wonderful.

So yes, I “enjoyed” the research in that it was fascinating and enlightening and I wouldn’t have missed it. But it was an emotional rollercoaster!

Why did you start writing this book?

My previous book Code Name Verity told the story of the brave 39 women who were sent into Nazi-occupied France as Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents, and in a sense Rose Under Fire tells the story of what happened to many of them after. A third of them were captured and killed, mostly in concentration camps; twenty per cent of them ended up in Ravensbrück. When I was doing the research for Code Name Verity and learning about the SOE, I couldn’t help reading about what happened after—a lot of my initial information about Ravensbrück came during the research I did for my previous book. The more I learned, the more I felt that in some sense I hadn’t told the whole story and I needed to deal with the aftermath as well as the initial experience of capture that is described in Code Name Verity.

One of the focuses of Rose Under Fire is the survival and rebellion of the 74 Polish women subjected to medical experiments at Ravensbrück. I hadn’t known anything about their story before I started researching Ravensbrück for Rose Under Fire. As soon as I found out about them I knew that my plot was going to have to include them and memorialize them.

What else have you written?

I have written a series of Young Adult novels based on Arthurian legend and set in ancient Britain and ancient Ethiopia. They defy categorisation! They’re all available as e-books (though out of print in paper).

Though these books have a very different setting from Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, I think it’s safe to say my themes of adventure and espionage are consistent!

 

A Reading by Elizabeth Wein

Wein's Code Name Verity was nominated for the Scottish Children's Book Awards in 2012! Click here to watch the author read an excerpt from the book. 

 

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