Schneider Family Book Award: Rose Under Fire

Schneider Family Book Award SealLast week at ALA Midwinter, the 2014 ALA Youth Media Awards were announced (if you missed the ceremony, you can still watch it online). The Youth Media Awards encompass many different prizes recognizing media created for children and young adults, including the Schneider Family Book Award, which was established by Dr. Katherine Schneider and “honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” This year, in addition to being named one of YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults top ten titles, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein is the the Schneider Family Book Award’s teen award winner.

Though it is a companion to 2013 Michael L. Printz Honor book Code Name Verity and references characters and events from that title, Rose Under Fire focuses on the story of a new character named Rose Justice. An expert pilot, Rose leaves her home in the U.S. to join the war effort in England during World War II. As a female pilot, her jobs are mostly limited to ferrying planes back and forth between England and France, but on one fateful trip she comes into close contact with her German counterparts. Taken captive by the Germans, she is at first afforded some respect as a pilot, but is eventually transferred to the infamous Ravensbrück camp. Throughout the war she has heard rumors about these prison camps, but she never guessed the true horror of them until she is confronted with it first hand. At the camp, her captors initially attempt to force her to work in a factory, but Rose resists any activity that will aid the German war effort.

Eventually her brave refusal to work, even in the face of brutal punishments, leads her to be placed in the same section of the camp that houses the “rabbits.” These Polish political prisoners served as test subjects for Nazi doctors intent on conducting horrifying medical experiments on live subjects. One character in particular, Róża, stands out for her defiant determination to not only survive but to make sure that the world knows about the abuse that they have suffered at the hands of the Nazis and learns the names of the other test subjects who have died. She forces Rose to take up this mantle of remembrance as well, exhorting her to memorize the names of dead prisoners that she had never even met so that their story might one day be shared with the rest of the world.

roseunderfire-weinIn Rose Under Fire, Wein has created a book that offers a stark and moving picture of a Nazi prison camp and tells the story of a somewhat unknown aspect of the war, namely the medical experiments that the Nazis conducted on some of their captives. The book also tackles the difficult realities of the lasting scars – both physical and emotional – that plague those who were ultimately freed from the camps. There is no sense in this story that the trauma ends as soon as people leave the camp. Wein movingly portrays the difficult emotions that the prisoners face both at the camp and after their rescue and the ways that the trials of Nazis after the war stirred up these emotions for many of their victims. Woven throughout the books are Rose’s poems which convey this emotion in a way that few novels manage to and offer an insight into her thoughts throughout her ordeals. Beyond this emotional impact, Rose Under Fire also looks unflinchingly at the permanent physical disabilities and disfigurement that some of the prisoners suffered at the hands of their captors, which was undoubtedly a factor in its selection for this prestigious award. Rose Under Fire is a must-read book for those with an interest in learning more about World War II and the Holocaust. It is a deeply moving novel and a worthy companion to the excellent Code Name Verity.

If you are interested in reading other Schneider Family Book Award books, you can find a complete list on the ALA’s website. If you would prefer to read other books on the Holocaust, you can find a selection of them in last week’s post for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

– Carli Spina, currently reading Avalon by Mindee Arnett