Rose Justice is an American pilot who has just come to England to help with the war effort. Though women aren’t allowed to fly planes in combat, she is able to get a job with the Women’s Air Transport Auxiliary ferrying planes back and forth within Allied territory. At first Rose sees her work as a grand adventure, a fascinating change from her sheltered upbringing. But her life is instantly, horribly changed when she is captured by the Germans in the middle of a routine flight from France to England. She is immediately arrested and transported to the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbrück. There Rose confronts the hideous realities of this war for the first time, including the brutal scientific experiments performed on a group of young women known as “rabbits.” But depsite the horrific treatment Rose endures, she forges close bonds with a small group of fellow prisoners and somehow manages to hold onto hope.
This companion novel to Code Name Verity is equally powerful and moving, although it struck me in a very different way. I loved CNV for its suspense, its elements of espionage, and its intense portrayal of friendship. This book is not as suspenseful; we know from the start of Rose’s narrative about Ravensbrück that she is remembering her experiences after she has escaped. It’s also not as personal (if that’s the word I want) because while Rose forms incredibly close bonds with her fellow prisoners, the emphasis is less on individual relationships and more on the experience of Ravensbrück as a whole. Neverthless, this book did strike me on a very deep personal level. It’s easy to become a little desensitized to the atrocities committed by the Nazis, simply because we’ve heard about them so many times, but this book certainly made them vivid for me. The most horrifying thing is that similar atrocities are still occurring in parts of the world today. So this is not an easy read, but I think it’s a very important one.