Dec 2, 2008

Briar Rose

Jane Yolen, Briar Rose, 1992, Starscape.

"I am Briar Rose." Those are the last words that Becca's Gemma (grandmother) says to her granddaughters before dying. Becca's older sisters pass it off as the delirium of an old woman but twenty-three year old Becca feels a nagging sensation that there may be some truth behind these last words, after all growing up, their household version of Briar Rose didn't match other kids versions--not even a little bit.

Going through her grandmother's things Becca discovers bits and pieces of the beginning of her grandmother's life in America that doesn't jibe with what her mother has always believed. For instance, that she [Becca's mother] was born in a European refugee camp in upstate New York. With this, Becca sets off on a journey to discover who her Grandmother and Briar Rose were--one and the same or pure fairy tale? What she finds takes her into the heart of Poland where the townspeople refuse to talk about what happened during the war. Piece by piece Becca learns the story of her Grandmother and that sometimes fairy tales can be more heartbreaking than the truth.

I'm not sure how to feel about this story. I generally like Jane Yolen's work, but I felt like Becca herself had a fairy princess complex going on. Furthermore it was creepy that Becca's thirty-five year old editor was hitting on her while also offering to help her solve her family mystery. The fact that the fairy tale is a metaphor for the Holocaust makes it difficult to read, especially when you know that worse things than what was described in this story took place. Still, Yolen knows that the people reading this may have not yet learned about that part of history in school and so she walks a fine line between too much information and not enough in a way that makes it resonate with the reader. Yet I find it hard to comment on the specific history which inspired this book without asking myself how much is too much and how much is not enough? All I know is that this book doesn't suffer from the same problem as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas which masquerades a a child's "Holocaust fable" but in reality I personally would have a difficult time recommending to a parent (keeping the ending in mind).

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