Friday, March 18, 2016

Book Review: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Title: Briar Rose
Written by: Jane Yolen
Published: September 1, 1992 by Tor Books (Macmillan)
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: A powerful retelling of Sleeping Beauty that is "heartbreaking and heartwarming." 

 An American Library Association "100 Best Books for Teens" 
An American Library Association "Best Books for Young Adults" 

Ever since she was a child, Rebecca has been enchanted by her grandmother Gemma's stories about Briar Rose. But a promise Rebecca makes to her dying grandmother will lead her on a remarkable journey to uncover the truth of Gemma's astonishing claim: I am Briar Rose. A journey that will lead her to unspeakable brutality and horror. But also to redemption and hope.

This is a book that has been on my TBR for quite some time now. It came highly recommended after I read and loved Bitter Greens back in 2014. I finally took the time to read it as part of the Rock My TBR challenge and I'm glad that I did. This is a really layered story with an interesting historical fiction story, an intricate retelling, and a complex mystery.

The first and most obvious layer of this book is the historical fiction narrative. Briar Rose is one of those books where a person sets out to find the truth about something that happened in the past. In this case, where her grandmother came from and how she escaped to the US during WWII. If you know me, you know that I am broadening my reading horizons and the includes reading more historical fiction set during WWII. I'm realizing that there are more complex and unique stories about the time period and this was a really great example. Yes, it is a book about the holocaust but it's about a place that is not often talked about. A place where horrible atrocities happened. And this book didn't just focus on Jews. It also dealt with the treatment of homosexuals and gypsies among others.It was interesting and heart-breaking to see that treatment of people.  But despite that it had an even hopeful tone with mention and focus on the partisans and people who were doing what they could to help the people in these concentration camps. It was such an interesting historical fiction story and despite all the terrible things it was still hopeful.

It was also a really complex mystery. You know me and mysteries, I love a good mystery. Yolen did a great job in developing a story that had some really fantastic mystery elements. Finding out the truth about her grandmother was not easy for Becca. There was a lot of investigating that had to happen. Armed with nothing but the old stories that she would tell and her own perceptions. It was so fascinating watching Becca uncover things and slowly learn the truth. It's not the kind of mystery where you can solve things, it was more just slowing finding facts. It felt more realistic in that way. It didn't feel like a brilliant detective doing it, it felt like the average person finding out their family history. It was really fantastic in that way.

But I think my favorite part of the mystery was actually the retelling, this is retellings month after all. Briar Rose is unsurprisingly a Sleeping Beauty retelling, and it's a very intricate retelling. Well, not so much intricate as complex and layered, much like the rest of this book. Becca's grandmother often told the story of Sleeping Beauty to her but it wasn't the typical story that you know from Disney or even Perrault. So from the elements of the story Becca has to piece together her grandmother's story. And if possible, it's darker than the original fairy tale. I mean we're dealing with the Holocaust so that shouldn't be much of a surprise. But as things start unfolding you get to see how truly connected to the story that her grandmother was. It was so interesting to see how she adopted the well-known story to explain her past and make sense of something so horrible. Chapters were often separated by the the telling of the story and it was such an interesting way to break up the main narrative. I love when fantasy books incorporate folklore and fairy tales into the world of the book and this did that as historical fiction. It was fantastic,

Briar Rose is a short book but don't let that fool you. It's an incredibly complex story but it flows really well. Yolen's writing is beautiful and lyrical and she is able to develop something so complex in such a short span of time is inspiring. Sometimes less is more and this book absolutely proved that. This is the kind of book that forces you to slow down and take in all the words. It's not a book that you can power through in one sitting. At least I couldn't. But it is a book that you will not want to put down. It's not particularly action-packed but there is so mystery and the brilliant and layered story will have you captivated from beginning to end.

On the whole Briar Rose is fantastic on so many levels. It's a great piece of historical fiction, it has a complex mystery, and it's an intricate retelling. The tagline on the book says it's a story that will not leave you but I think it's more accurate to say you won't want to leave this book.

I give Briar Rose by Jane Yolen 9.5 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy. I would absolutely recommend this book. It's something that will appeal to a very broad audience. Not only do I think it has crossover appeal in terms of category, but in genre as well. I would absolutely recommend it to fans of historical fiction and retelling.

Have you read Briar Rose? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. Wow. This sounds really good. I'm amazed that historical fiction and a fairy telling are rolled into one. I need to see how that is done. I'm adding it to my list right now! Great review.

  2. This is so interesting!! I've never heard of this one and I'm not sure I ever would have considered it before reading your review. You know I'm obsessed with retellings, but I'm not really into historical fiction. You've definitely intrigued me though! I definitely might be giving this one a try. Great review :D

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

  3. This sounds incredible. I'd heard of this book before but never really knew what it was about; this has made me want to pick it up immediately! Wonderful review xx

  4. Wow, sounds like something I would love! I love your glowing review, and it just sounds so charming and fantastic.