Saturday, February 20, 2010

Briar Rose by Jane Yolan (4/5 stars)

I really like fairy tale retellings, so I was eager to read this book. It is a good book, but not so much about fairy tales as about the Holocaust and one girl's struggle to uncover her grandmother's past.

Becca's grandmother, Gemma, always tells the story of Sleeping Beauty. As Gemma ages and gets sick, the story of Sleeping Beauty is the only thing she ever says. When Gemma passes she leaves a mysterious box of trinkets for Becca. Becca has promised to track down her grandmother's past and uses the box of clippings and trinkets to find out the story of her grandmother who thought she was a Polish Princess.

This was a very well-written book and a very interesting idea. When I realized that this was a book that merged the story of Sleeping Beauty with the Holocaust I was a bit taken aback. I mean the origins of fairy tales are never pretty, but I can't think of an uglier time in human history than the Holocaust. The chapters alternate between short snippets of Gemma reciting her version of Sleeping Beauty and chapters following Becca's journey to find out what happened to Gemma.

More than anything this is a fairly accurate fictional accounting of events that happened during the Holocaust; as you might expect this makes for a somewhat sad, depressing, and distressing read. This story is much more about history, the origins of fairy tales in general, and human nature than it is about Sleeping Beauty. While there are some echoes of hope throughout the book, the majority of it explores the evils of the Holocaust and the struggles people went through during that time. The renditions of some of the actions taken by the Nazis are disturbing and accurate, although not overly gory.

The story itself is very engaging and hard to put down as you are struggling to guess what Becca will find out about her grandmother. All in all it was a good read, just not necessarily a pleasant one. I have read works by Yolen before and her writing style is excellent; I am not used to her dealing with such a serious topic.

Overall, this was an excellent read. People should be prepared more for a different variation of Holocaust events than a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. This book is about so much more than fairy tales. Yolen also has a brief afterward telling which events in the book really happened and which she fabricated to meet the stories needs. For those of you who have read enough about the Holocaust to know how truly disturbing it was; you may want to skip this. I do think that everyone should be exposed to the horrors of those times though so that they are remembered...and this book does an excellent job of doing that while pulling readers through an intriguing story at the same time.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- The Young Adult Reading Challenge
- The 100+ Book Reading Challenge

Briar Rose 

1 comment:

  1. I had the same reaction to the book, and I read it right before the anniversary of Sept 11 a few years ago. So...yeah. But! It is an excellent read, absolutely.