This is such a powerful book it's hard to know where to begin.
Briar Rose is a story about the Jewish Holocaust of World War II. You should know the final third of the book does contain graphic content. However, I read Auschwitz by Dr. Miklos Nyiszli and Night by Elie Wiesel as a young teenager and those books were much more graphic. And you know what a weak stomach I have to begin with!
Despite the terrible imagery of the Holocaust, I do believe it is an essential part of every Human Being's education to learn about it. Millions of human beings with thoughts, feelings, loved ones, and eternal souls were legally murdered for being born a different race, for carrying out the basic human right of choosing their own spouses or romantic partners, and for having different religious and political views than those in power. It's easy to forget in our comfortable American lives that these crimes against humanity are still being carried out today. Now. Every day. From a girl being stoned to death for falling in love with a boy of a different religion to a man being hacked to death for being born African, these crimes go unpunished every single day. Right now. Today.
Briar Rose starts out slow for my taste, but this seems to be Jane Yolen's style. Mercedes Lackey is like that too. I sped-read the first six chapters while the groundwork was being laid for the story. Becca is the youngest of three sisters and the only one who loves to listen to her grandmother's telling of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale. The rest of the family pretty much thinks Gemma (grandmother) is senile. She tells the same story over and over, yet she never talks about her experiences before she came to America.
Before Gemma dies, she asks Becca to promise to find the castle and the prince in her fairytale. After Gemma dies, Becca finds an old box of her things with clues. Based on these clues, Becca travels to Poland to uncover the truth of the past Gemma would never talk about. This is when the story gets especially gripping.
Jane Yolen did such a fabulous job with Poland and the Polish characters that I was ready to pack my bags and go there myself! My husband suggested I get together with his mother and plan a similar trip. Even though his mother is German, her family was not Nazi and survived the war under their own kind of oppression.
As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that Gemma's fairytale was actually a metaphor for the truth of what she'd endured as Jewish woman in World War II Poland. Becca finds the castle, which had been used as a murdering camp during the war. And she finds the prince too.
The Prince is so real. He's horribly flawed in so many ways, yet when the time came he made the choice to be truly human during a time and in a place when human virtue seemed burned in an Earthly hell.
I've read about the Jewish experience in World War II, as well as the Protestant Christian experience in The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Briar Rose is the Polish/Jewish experience and you should read it too.
P.S. The book cover above is different from the current release. As a result, the Amazon ordering box at the bottom of this page has a different look. I prefer the old cover.