Saturday, August 01, 2009

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Finished!!! My first official book for my Reading In Order Challenge. If you recall, I tried to read Yevgeny Zamyatin's We a while back, and somehow I managed to lose it. I'm sure it'll show up one day, but for now it's probably under the bed or buried in my car. I decided to move on to the next author in my pile: Jane Yolen.

Briar Rose is part of Terri Windling's larger fairy tale series, and Yolen's offering may be the most recognizable of those novels by various authors. I like this book overall because it's a new interpretation of "Sleeping Beauty" that I've never read before. Never have I seen any fairy tale retellings that situate the characters amidst the Holocaust, but if you happen to have read others, please let me know!

We'll start with the good stuff:

  • An interesting new take on an old tale.
  • Yolen seems to have done a great deal of research into a little known, or little talked about, extermination camp in Chelmno.
  • Her main character, Becca, was likeable if a little "goody goody" for my taste.

The not-so-good stuff:

  • This book seemed very dated. While it's a very universal story, I thought Yolen could've handled some bits much better.
  • This book suffers from a case of weird marketing. I've always seen it marketed at young adults, but it reads very much like a novel for adults.
  • While it was an emotional story, I didn't think the emotion came across in the writing so well. It seemed dull at times when it should've shined.

I wish I could say more about this one, but I took entirely too long reading it. I set it aside, picked it back up, set it aside some more, and finally took the time to finish it over the last couple of days. While it was a worthwhile read, and I would say it was good, it didn't blow my socks off. I know I'm probably in the minority in not absolutely loving it, but alas, sometimes that's the case.

The next book in my Reading in Order stack is Richard Wright's Native Son. It's a big one, so it might take me a while, but I've wanted to read it for years, so we'll see how it goes!


  1. I know I've read this book.. but I barely remember how the tale was re-told. It doesn't stand up in my book reading memories very much!


  2. I've only read a few re-told fairy tales and the ones I've read just didn't do that much for me, so I won't be in a hurry to pick this up.

  3. Yolen is almost unheard of in UK libraries. I remember reading a series she wrote about dragons some years ago, but I've never seen anything else. Neverthless, I'm going to have a shot at getting hold of this as I'm interested in retellings. Do you know Adele Geras' retelling of the same tale, 'Watching the Roses'?

  4. Native Son is a great read. I hope you enjoy it! I had to read it for my Southern Lit class in college and really enjoyed it.

    Sorry Briar Rose wasn't so great for you. I really loved it and thought it had quite an emotional story. But it could have been one of those "right place, right time" moments. C'est la vie!

    Glad to see you posting!! Miss you.

  5. Native Son is excellent! It was my last book club read, and I got so sucked into it that it only took me a week or so to get through. I hope you like it!

  6. Sounds like you're not too anxious to read more fairy tale retellings set during the Holocaust, but The True Story of Hansel and Gretel is actually a very good book. I forget the author, but its fairy tale elements work, which are few, work very well in the holocaust setting.

  7. Interesting -- I was first introduced to Yolen through her children's books (also fairy tales!) when I was teaching middle school. I used "Sleeping Ugly," a twist on the better known tale that also contains a Briar Rose, for a read-aloud.

    Enjoying your blog! Props for you over at my place :).

  8. I read this a while ago, and I remember almost nothing about it except that I didn't care for it, even though I often like Jane Yolen.

    I'll be interested to see what you think of Native Son - I absolutely hated it, and I've always wondered what people see in it. (Not in a snotty way! I am actually curious to know what people like about it.)

  9. Yolen has said that she wrote this book for an adult audience. I have no idea why it is marketed to young adults.

  10. Yes, do read Native Son. It is a good book.

  11. Sharry, I hate it when that happens. I find it's too often the case. lol

    Bermuda, I'm usually a HUGE fan of retold fairy tales....especially the Fables series, by Bill Willingham. With that said, I tend to be really hard to please these days, and maybe Yolen's book suffered from that same fate.

    Table Talk, good luck getting hold of this one! I haven't read the Geras novel, but I'll have to see if I can get my hands on it.

    Heather, I'm really looking forward to Native Son. If I can stay awake long enough tonight I'm going to dive right into it. And I know what you mean about those "right place, right time" situations. I wish I had more of them!!

    Thanks, Jen! I hope I'm sucked into it like you were!

    C.B., I've heard nothing but good things about that book! Thank you for reminding me.

    Contemporary Troubadour, thanks so much for the props! It's great to find your blog. I'll have to explore more of Yolen's stuff to see what I really think of her.

    Jenny, I'm sorry to see that you didn't like Native Son. I'll be interested to see where I fall in the spectrum since so many people either love or hate it.

    Anon, me neither! Really weird.

    Thanks, Fem!

  12. I really enjoyed this (although perhaps that isn't the right word in hindsight). Like Table Talk said it's really hard to find Jane Yolen in shops over here and I have only seen this one in Forbidden Planet in the Fantasy section rather than Children's where the Young Adult books live. It does kind of sit on the fence between both camps though.

  13. I read this book in my late teens and loved it. I'm not sure how I would feel if I reread it now. I'm not aware of any other stories that combine a fairy tale with the Holocaust.


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