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on December 6, 2007
I tend to disagree with the reviewers who say this book is unsuitable for readers under 14. I was 9 or 10 when I first read it 15 years ago and though I may not have grasped everything in it with quite the same degree of understanding that I bring to it nowadays, it certainly wasn't unsuitable. Children are far more capable of handling dark subject matter than most adults will admit. As for the 'homosexual themes' I've seen some reviewers mention... The Nazis persecuted homosexuals nearly as zealously as they persecuted the Jews. This is historical fact, and one that tends to be overlooked. Kudos to Jane Yolen for addressing it. I wouldn't necessarily hand this book to a child under 10, but it's definitely appropriate for 6th graders and up.

As for the book itself, Yolen does a lovely job of interweaving past and present, fairy tale and reality. "Gemma's" version of Briar Rose has long been one of my favorite modern retellings. There are some issues with the book--the shallowness of the minor characters, the inordinate convenience of Josef Potocki's appearance in the story--but these are easily brushed aside due to the cruel beauty of the fairy tale, which is indisputably the highlight of the novel. The only major problem is this:

Granted, the characters believed Gemma came to the US before the war. But. Are we truly to believe that a Jewish family descended from an Eastern European immigrant never made the connection between the details in Gemma's unique telling of Briar Rose and the Nazis? Big black boots, shiny silver eagles, deadly "mist", and no one but the heroine lives happily ever after, yet none of them picked up on the Nazi references? I can't say it bothered me when I first read this book--I was a child, after all--but in subsequent readings it has jolted me out of the story. It was necessary for the plot to develop in the manner Yolen desired, but I can't help feeling that there are other ways she might have handled it so that this unrealistic device didn't intrude on the story.
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on December 29, 2005
This was my first book by Yolen. I had heard great things about her, especially about this book and given my recent fascination with fairy tales I thought I would give it a try. It was a quick read, easily because it was fascinating and very hard to put down. Ultimately, it left me feeling very, very sad, bordering on devastation yet...hopeful somehow. Another book I must buy.

Briar Rose takes the classic fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty and links it to the Holocaust. Rebecca, the youngest of her grandmother Gemma's granddaughters, has grown up listening to Gemma's rendition of Sleeping Beauty. Upon Gemma's death, Rebecca realizes that the story is one of the few clues to Gemma's past, a past that Gemma makes her swear on her deathbed to discover. Her search carries her to Poland and into the heart of the horrors of the Holocaust.
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on January 26, 2000
I read this book back in seventh grade. I am now a freshman in college and i must say that to this day- it is my all time favorite book. The way that Jane Yolen is able to take the story of the holocaust and intertwine it with the fairy tale of briar rose is stunning! The book leaves you on the edge of your seat and the ending leaves you breathless! I highly reccomend this book to young and old alike! Happy reading!
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on March 27, 1999
I know that many people consider this a fantasy. I, however, believe it is simply someone taking these two stories, one harrowing and terrifying, the other beautiful and peaceful, and creating a wonderful tale of a family and a past. Definitely worth reading!
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VINE VOICEon December 7, 2007
Gemma's last wish is that grand-daughter Becca find the castle; her dying words are that she is Briar Rose. However, the truth is entangled in the single fairy tale that Gemma tells her three grand-daughters throughout their lives. The tale she tells is not standard fare. This tale is elusive. What does it mean that Gemma is Briar Rose? How could a castle be part of Gemma's past?

The French gave us the word plot through "plait," which refers to the unraveling the reader must do as she reads. Imagine a plait of cloth lying horizontally with the loose part on the left (reading occurs left to right) as a closed book. Open the book, read and unravel, read and unravel. This is the task Gemma has given Becca: Unravel the past. The family knows nothing of Gemma's past. Her only clue is the fairy tale: Briar Rose, a new telling of Sleeping Beauty.

The audience knows the power of fairy tales to hide universal truths, that sometimes an external force, in the form of a handsome prince, defeats evil characters and their spells, and sometimes the inner power of the character is the impetus. Jane Yolen's brilliant retelling of Sleeping Beauty through Gemma's tale, is one novel in the Fairy Tales series begun by Terry Windling, in which writers retell a fairy tale in a modern setting. In this tale is hidden the evil of the Holocaust in one hideous castle run by Nazis, and one princess, Briar Rose, awakened by the power of a kiss. No more than that will I tell.

Yolen employs a favorite literary device in Gemma's telling of the tale. In the beginning chapters the reader is supposedly given the finished plait of the story. As Becca begins her quest in discovering the truth, Yolen begins unraveling the story, revealing one hidden fact, and another, and another, until finally toward the end the story is fully revealed and the reader is left gasping at its truth.

Because Becca is a reporter, she knows how to uncover the truth. With the help of her handsome boss, Becca begins her task. A major truth she learns about him before she leaves for Poland is that he is adopted but had his own quest of learning who his birth mother is. Is it necessary to know this truth? Is it better to leave some truths unknown? This is the crux of Yolen's book: Are there some truths better left unknown? Think of that plait. We read a book because we want to unravel the plot and get at the truth of the story. The handsome boss had to know his truth, Becca had to know her Gemma's story, and in the end learns her own identity.

This is one of the most satisfactory Holocaust novels/stories I have ever read, not because it has a happy ending (it does and it doesn't), but because the way Yolen unravels the truth through first one thread then another. If this seems enigmatic, that is what Yolen wants--sometimes finding the truth is tricky and difficult. For many reasons this is an excellent book for girls 9-12, depending on their maturity. This is not a sanitized Walt Disney Sleeping Beauty, but an old-fashioned one in which evil is what it is, but that truth can be liberating.
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on April 16, 2000
I was introduced to Jane Yolen by her short story in After the King: A Tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien (another great read...highly recommended!). On a recent trip to the library I looked for a book by her on a whim. Briar Rose caught my eye. Last summer I took a trip to Poland, and during my stay visited Auschwitz. Since then I have been very interested in Holocaust stories. Briar Rose, though not a true account, is still a very moving story. It is very well-written and the pace is good, but make sure you have tissues nearby! (Unless I'm just the overly-sensitive type, which I doubt.) I've had to order a copy for my personal library, and I plan to read it again as soon as UPS delivers it.
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on May 28, 1998
The time our teacher told us about this book I was curious about it. How could Sleeping Beauty (Briar Rose) can somehow connect to a holocaust story? A fairy tale and a tragedy? When I started reading it, I thought the first few chapters were boring, but when it got to the part where the main character, Becca, have gotten to the place her grandmother's track seem to lay, the book became a page turner. The part where Joseph Potocki tells about the past was the best part. It's amazing how the author blended a tale and a horrible story together. It somehow made the story less horrible than it really is. And it gave it's reader a tale to remember...
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on November 8, 1999
I grew up LOVING Sleeping Beauty. I mean, I would watch the movie absolutely, non-stop. This novel is perfect for anyone who loved the story when they where younger, but written in a more mature and solemn tone. The characters are good, strong, and believable, the plot keeps the reader at the edge of their seats. Not because it's suspenseful, but you can't help but wonder what Becca's going to find out next. I read this book in 2½ hours-- and enjoyed every minute in it.
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on May 16, 1997
I have been a fan of Jane Yolen for many, many years. This book is the perfect example why. She tells the story of the deep love between a young girl and her Polish grandmother Gitl, of whom very little is known. After her grandmother's death, our heroine (whose name I can't remember)becomes obsessed with uncovering the mystery of her grandmother's life. The only clues she has are a paltry collection of odds and ends that belonged to her grandmother, and her version of the fairy tale "Briar Rose" that she used to tell. The grandaughter travels to Poland and slowly begins to unravel the threads of her grandmother's past, and comes to a deeper understanding of herself, and of her place in her (mostly unsympathetic) family. My synopsis does not do justice to the lyrical beauty of Ms. Yolen's prose, or to the skillful way in which she weaves together the main plot and her retelling of the fairy tale "Briar Rose". Her handling of the Holocaust and the role it played in shaping Gitl is understated, but deeply moving all the same. I had tears in my eyes at the end of the book. A must read
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on April 1, 2013
When I first received the suggestion to read Briar Rose, I formed high expectations. I just love history and value the importance of retelling such a dark chapter in human history that is the Holocaust. Jane Yolen managed to weave a clever web of symbolism and allegory, effectively combining a modified sleeping beauty with a tale of survival. However, in the end two dimensional characters and trifling writing style marred my overall experience.

"Time may heal all wounds, but it does not erase the scars."
-Becca Berlin

Throughout the book the reader receives two intertwined stories. An italicized portion which retells Genma's Sleeping Beauty along with Becca's childhood and the present story of an adult Becca who pursues Genma's past. Each italicized chapter revealed more hints and clues through the modifications Genma made to the story: describing thorns like barbs, etc. This part enchanted me, it was simultaneously warm and haunting. On the other hand, I was severely disappointed with the present day story. The characters lacked a lot of depth. Shana and Sylvia, the two elder sisters, did not have any unique characteristics. I still can't differentiate them, both were self-absorbed and not willing to understand Becca or Genma. I feel as if their only purpose was as antitheses to Becca: the special, loyal granddaughter.

Which brings me to the characterization of Becca. She is loyal, stubborn, and caring. Though she is one of the better characters in the novel, I feel she could have been so much more. But the interference of Stan, her boss, stunned her growth. There were many instances in which Becca should have taken the initiative. Instead, all of the sudden Stan came up with motivations, plans, and connections. Still, even though I felt he was a bit off pudding at times, he was overall a better rounded character than Becca's sisters: officious yet insightful.

"Fairy Tales always have a happy ending,"
"That depends... on whether you are Rumpelstiltskin or the Queen."
-Becca and Stan

I enjoyed the last half of the book much more than the first half. It went into detail about Polish life and culture, which I found very interesting. Yolen explored some often forgotten topics of the Holocaust and introduced dynamic characters. At one point it becomes more than just Genma's story, it becomes a dark, gripping homage to the victims and of the survivors. I also appreciated this section due to the lack of unnecessary details, which plagued the beginning part. Details breathe life into the story but, in this case they fragmented it. One moment Becca is looking over her grandmothers documents and the next her parents are fighting over popcorn in the next room and then back to Becca. Little smudges like that reduced my overall enjoyment of the novel.

In the end, the novel transmitted a powerful message of suffering, fairy tales, and heroism. Unfortunately that transmission was intercepted by static characters and an excess of pointless detail. Yolen was able to deftly utilize allegory and symbolism to craft a unique story that I managed to enjoy despite its glitches.
[...]
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