Monday, September 14, 2015

Briar Rose: Review

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen is dark re-telling of the story of Sleeping Beauty. Ever since she can remember, Rebecca Berlin's grandma--called Gemma because one of Becca's sister's couldn't say "grandma"--has told her family the story of Sleeping Beauty. But Gemma's version is much darker than the standard versions with no one but Briar Rose waking from the hundred year's sleep and several of Becca's friends no longer want to hear it when they all are young. But Becca always loved the story and Gemma always told her that she was the only one who understood.

So it's no surprise that when Gemma is close to death she makes Becca promise to find her castle and her prince. And then, once she is gone, the family finds a box of papers, photographs, and odd keepsakes among Gemma's things. The more Becca digs into the materials the more she realizes how little they knew about the woman they called Gemma. And the more connections she makes between what she learns and the Briar Rose story her grandma used to tell. She works through the story with Stan, a friend and fellow journalist, until it becomes clear that she will have to make a trip to Poland to make sense of the clues she's found. The clues lead her to one of the horrific extermination camps of the Holocaust. Chelmo--a place of which it is said no woman ever made it out alive.

This was a reread for me. I first read it back at the end of high school when I had recently discovered Jane Yolen. I thought it a terrific and haunting use of the classic fairy tale to represent one woman's negotiation of the terrible experiences she endured during the Holocaust. By masking the events in a fairy tale she told to her daughter and then to her daughter's daughters, by using this particular story to entertain children she was able to bring joy out darkness. She was able to emphasize the very specific happy ending--hers with her family in America--that came out of all grief and loss of the second World War. As the dust jacket flap tells us: "This is a tale of life and death, of love and hate, despair and faith. A tale of castles and thorns and sharp barbed wire." It is a tale of a beautiful princess saved by one brave prince and loved by another even braver and the way love can grow out of the harshest, thorniest soil. I gave it ★★★★ in high school. I have no changes to make in that rating now. 


Anonymous said...

Well, I doubt you could have loved this one more! So, ideally, what's the age group it is aiming at, do you think? My nieces turn 11 in a week - too soon?

Bev Hankins said...

Sergio: I believe it was originally aimed at teenagers, but it depends on your nieces...I could see myself reading this at 11 even though it didn't come out until I was much older. The descriptions relating to the actual events of the Holocaust aren't what I consider too graphic. I will say this--primarily because those who haven't rated it highly on Goodreads seem to take issue with this--It is NOT a fairy tale or a reworking of the fairy tale in what would be considered a fairy world. It uses the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale in the very real world.

fredamans said...

I got to find a copy of this one. I love retellings, especially dark ones. Sleeping Beauty is one of my faves too, and this one sounds awesome! Great review!