The award-winning Rose Under Fire starts in 1944, when eighteen-year-old American, Rose Justice is a pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) based in Southampton, England. The ATA transports planes back and forth from factories to airbases and elsewhere. It’s a dangerous job, each week an ATA pilot is killed in the course of their work.
Rose is an appealing combination of feisty and innocent. We learn about her life as she records her experiences, memories, dreams and fears in her journal. Poems she writes are dotted throughout, poignant reflections on the experience and impact of war.
When she travels across the channel, Rose ends up being taken prisoner. Life in a German concentration camp is harsh and starkly different from everything she thought she knew. The bulk of Rose’s story is about survival and courage under extraordinary circumstances - concentration camp work assignments, relationships that are formed, the politics of bowls and always being hungry, the continual struggle to comprehend ... and the ‘Rabbit’ girls.
“How can you grow to love a handful of strangers so fiercely just because you have to sleep on the same couple of wooden planks with them, when half the time you were there you wanted to strangle them, and all you ever talked about was death and imaginary strawberries?”
In the book’s afterword, author Elizabeth Wein explains how she “constructed an imitation of a survivor’s account” which is fiction, using original characters, but based on the real memories of people who wanted to “tell the world” about what happened at Ravensbrück. It’s a window into an actual place which saw real, tragic events happen to 150,000 women.
Rose Under Fire is not for the faint-hearted (and I would recommend it as being most suitable for more mature readers), but it’s an important and moving story.
Title: Rose Under Fire
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont, $16.99 RRP
Publication Date: September 2013
For ages: 15+
Type: Young Adult Fiction