Saturday, May 8, 2010

Briar Rose / Jane Yolen

This semester I learned I have to be careful about how much extracurricular reading I do. Adult Readers Advisory really opened my eyes to the fact that there are all kinds of interesting fiction out there. Whenever I would read the chapters in our textbook, I kept seeing books that sounded good, and several times I ended up reading those instead of doing homework for my other class. Case in point: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen.

The textbook talks about this novel in the "Fantasy" chapter: "In Jane Yolen's Briar Rose, the Sleeping Beauty story is reimagined in Nazi Germany." I'm really fascinated by Holocaust stories, so when I read that sentence I immediately placed a hold on the book and ended up reading it in one sitting.

The premise of the novel is this: A young journalist named Becca is losing her grandmother, Gemma, to dementia. Gemma had told Becca and her two sisters the story of Briar Rose on a continual basis while they were growing up, but near the end of her life she began insisting that she herself was Briar Rose.

"'I was the princess in the castle in the sleeping woods,'" she says to Becca on her deathbed. "'And there came a great dark mist and we all fell asleep. But the prince kissed me awake. ... Promise me you will find the castle. Promise me you will find the prince. ...'"

Becca promises, and begins her investigation following Gemma's funeral. I can't tell you too much more because it would ruin the suspense, but suffice it to say that with a small box of her grandmother's belongings, her investigative journalist skills, and help from her boss/love interest and a translator in Poland, Becca manages to figure out the mystery of her grandmother's past.

Briar Rose is a compelling read, a definite page-turner. As the reader, you get excited as Becca finds each piece of the puzzle and puts it in place. You get frustrated when she hits a dead end. And you are fascinated when you finally learn how the story of Sleeping Beauty played out in Gemma's life. Originally I was afraid that the parallels between the two stories would be cheesy or forced, but instead I ended up really admiring how the author handled this aspect. It actually was what I enjoyed most about the book. Well done, Jane Yolen!

I would recommend Briar Rose to any young adult or YA crossover reader, as well as to anyone interested in the Holocaust. This is a work of fiction, which should probably be pointed out in case a reader is only interested in stories of real survivors, but Jane Yolen did research the real-life setting of Gemma's fictional story, and these facts are weaved into the narrative and detailed in the "Author's Note" at the end.

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