Briar Rose by Jane Yolen


Reading level: Young Adult
Pages: 224
Publisher: Tor Teen March 15, 2002 - (first published 1988)

"'Fairy Tales always have a happy ending.' That depends... on whether you are Rumpelstiltskin or the Queen."


When you think about fairy tales, one tends to picture the standard issue beautiful princess, there is an evil adversary (usually a stepmother), and said princess is rescued from whatever awful situation she's been put in (by the stepmother, sorry stepma) by a dashing, brave and handsome prince. He or she or both are usually assisted by something otherworldly such as fairies or mutant frogs and of course there is a price that must be paid for said service- often something small and inconsequential like their eternal soul. But after it is all said and done, the one thing you can always count on in a fairy tale, is a fairy tale ending- happily ever after, Christmas trees and pie.

Those aren't real fairy tales. Those are children's stories. Happy, pleasing little ditties designed to give a false sense of well being with the world and to entice them to sleep- and that's OK, because if you read your children a real fairy tale, the way they were written and meant to be told...they would be too afraid to ever shut their eyes.

Becca was a little girl who loved bedtime stories. Her favorite was the story of Sleeping Beauty as told by her Grandmother, her Gemma. She grew up on this tale, enchanted by the castle covered in thorns and it's inhabitants who were magically made to sleep and the handsome prince who awakened the sleeping beauty with a kiss. Gemma's telling of the story was different from the happy classic that most are familiar with. In her story, the beauty has red hair, like Becca and her grandmother and when the people are put to sleep by the evil fairy's mist, only one ever wakes up.

A Becca all grown up sits at the side of her Gemma's deathbed, where she makes her grandmother a promise that she doesn't know how she'll keep. All her life she has been told the story of Briar Rose and now, with her last breath Gemma is claiming the story as her own, that she is the sleeping beauty.

Very little was known about Gemma's past. Even her daughter was uncertain as to what her real name was. The only thing they are sure of is that Gemma escaped to the United States, during WWII- during the holocaust. Determined to solve the mystery of her grandmother's past and to fulfill her promise to Gemma, Becca embarks on a journey into one of the darkest times in history.

A wall of thorns becomes a barbed wire fence, a castle an extermination camp, and the mist that made the people of the castle fall asleep- something horrible and unthinkable.

This was a difficult book to read and I needed a good week between reading it and writing this to get over the initial impact of the story. It's dark, and disturbing. Haunting doesn't cover it- this story doesn't just stay with you, it becomes a part of you and it hurts.

This book is part of a series by Terri Windling that features, dark recreations of classic fairy tales. Which I agree, the darker interpretations are more true to form. I remember my big, battered well love copy of Grimm's fairy tales. Some of them scared the heck out of me.

I appreciate this book, but to say I enjoyed it would be rather morbid. It's uncommonly good- save for the dialogue which tended to be rather stilted and at times removed me from the story.

4 thoughts?:

celi.a March 14, 2010 at 8:51 PM  

Ah, this book was so good! Very well-written, unexpected, strange, and yes...hard to read. I read it very shortly after studying the Holocaust for the first time, and I actually remember thinking that it was quite redemptive in its own way. Yolen always mixes the light and the dark of life so well - and I think this one is a great example of that.

Ladybug March 15, 2010 at 9:00 AM  

Great review! This sounds like a very emotional read. Just the review moved me, and for the same reason I'm not sure if this is a book for me.

Marie Burton March 16, 2010 at 7:43 AM  

Wow, what a fantastic review and I never knew this book existed. I must look for it.. and no, I don't want to be morbid but perhaps my soul needs another imprint.

Literature for Lunch October 13, 2010 at 5:31 PM  

I am so glad that you reviewed this book. I often recommend this book to my older students. Jane Yolen writes so beautifully. This is an important book that people should read.

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