Rose Under Fire

Written by Elizabeth Wein
Review by Ann Turnbull

Rose Justice is an eighteen-year-old American pilot who travels to England in August 1944 and joins the Air Transport Auxiliary. Rose, a budding poet, is in love with words and exhilarated by flying, and she is thrilled when the chance comes to fly a transport plane to Paris. But on the return flight she disappears and is feared dead.

The story resumes eight months later in Paris, where Rose is writing down her traumatic experiences. Her plane went off course and was brought down by the Luftwaffe, and she was sent to Ravensbruck as a political prisoner. She struggles to survive along with other women – mainly French, Polish and Russian – whom she befriends. Some of the details of the women’s suffering are horrific, and yet this is an uplifting story of the prisoners’ determination to survive, using humour, ingenuity and courage. They have no means of writing, and Rose, as a writer, feels this keenly. The book is interspersed with poems, not only Rose’s, but Edna St Vincent Millay’s. The women learn many poems by heart and memorise the names of murdered prisoners; those who survive will tell the world.

This is a beautifully constructed novel about the resilience of the human spirit, and the poetry adds an extra dimension which lifts it out of the ordinary. It’s a worthy successor to Code Name Verity. Although this is a stand-alone novel and not a sequel to Code Name Verity, I would strongly advise reading Verity first. Recommended for age 13+, both boys and girls.