This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.
I haven't yet read Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein's companion novel to Rose Under Fire, but now I absolutely must. If you haven't read CNV, then I'm sure you've at least heard the raves, and based on Wein's writing in Rose Under Fire, the raves are warranted.
I feel like I have a decent knowledge of WWII, but I wasn't aware that American women piloted planes for the Allies during the war. Rose Justice, the fictional narrator of the story, feels so real, and it's clear Wein meticulously researched the actual events that are woven into the story. (I always read authors' notes and acknowledgments, and in this case, it was very helpful because Wein details the facts versus the fiction in this book.)
Rose Justice is an American doing her part to support the Allies in the war against Germany. When she was young, her father taught her to pilot planes, and she uses her skill to transport fighter planes in Europe. During one of her missions, Nazi warplanes confront her in the sky and force her to land. The Germans are startled when a young woman steps out of the plane, and while they treat her with a certain measure of respect, Rose is nevertheless sent to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp in Germany. Rose experiences or witnesses every brutality doled out in the camps: gassing of prisoners, vicious beatings, sadistic medical experiments, and starvation.
Rose is housed with other non-Jewish prisoners, including a group of "Rabbits," so named because of the awful "experiments" performed upon them. These experiments were merely a form of torture designed to mutilate the Rabbits' bodies. Wein bluntly provides us with the details, and unfortunately, she did not have to make this up. Rose is not subjected to these experiments, as they were reserved primarily for the Eastern European prisoners. She does, however, suffer just about every other atrocity in the camp.
Rose Under Fire is a painful, difficult story to read, because we know the worst of the events described actually happened. But Wein gives us reasons to feel a bit of hope and optimism, as well:
Rose survives Ravensbruck: This isn't a spoiler since we learn this early on from the novel's flashback/diary style.
Rose's relationships with the Rabbits: Rozycka (Roza), in particular, forms a close bond with Rose. Roza was crippled by the experiments done to her legs, but she remains fierce and brave, and she is my favorite character in the book.
The will of the prisoners to survive: During Rose's imprisonment, she and the Rabbits rebel in ways both big and small, and they secretly support each other in ingenious ways.
The novel ends with the Nuremburg trials, and I think a part of me hoped for some cathartic sense of justice after everything Rose and the Rabbits endured, but really, no number of Nazis could possibly have been executed or punished to right the evil that was done. So while there is no moral satisfaction, the story ends with some hope for Rose and the Rabbits who survived.
Note - I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.