Elizabeth Wein’s previous WWII novel, Code Name Verity—which garnered multiple awards, including a 2013 Michael L. Printz Honor—is a singular reading experience. The story of Verity, a spy caught behind enemy lines, is intense, suspenseful and authentic. In this companion novel, Wein revisits the topic of women pilots in the war, and readers who loved Code Name Verity won’t be disappointed: Rose Under Fire is equally good. It might even be better.
Eighteen-year-old American pilot and amateur poet Rose Justice has pulled some strings to land a spot with Great Britain’s Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). As the daughter of a flight school director, she has been flying since she was 12, and after three months with ATA, she can deliver new and repaired Spitfire fighter planes to airfields without batting an eyelash. But even Rose is surprised to learn that the death of a fellow ATA pilot might have been the result of an attempt to “tip” or ram a German V-1 flying bomb out of the sky. However, when given the chance, she can’t resist trying the same thing—an incident with disastrous consequences. Rose is captured in enemy territory and imprisoned in Ravensbrück, a Nazi concentration camp for women that holds many political prisoners and “Rabbits,” victims of heinous medical experiments.
Although the harrowing story of what happens to Rose and the other Ravensbrück women is fictionalized, Wein says in her author’s note, “I didn’t make up Ravensbrück. I didn’t make up anything about Ravensbrück.” But we, as readers, already sense this. It is impossible to read Wein and not understand that paying witness to the truth is essential to what she does.
Wein, an avid flyer herself, is a powerful, compelling storyteller whose work, like that of Suzanne Collins, will no doubt fly off the young adult shelves and find an eager general audience. As we near the 75th anniversary of the start of World War II in 2014, the timing couldn’t be better to remind ourselves that there are still hard aspects left to tell and to learn.