I have a friend who won’t read any sad books. When I recommend her books, I have to remember nothing horrific, just a happy story that she can escape to for a few minutes. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen wouldn’t be a book I would recommend to her, although I would want to – it was fantastic, and kept me reading late into the night.

Briar Rose follows the story of Rebecca, who has always been enchanted by her grandmother Gemma’s telling of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty). The story goes that when the princess is 17, a great mist covers her castle and everyone will die, except the princess who wakes up by the kiss of a princess. Rebecca always thought her grandmother’s story was made up until, on her deathbed, her grandmother makes her promise to find the castle and the prince.

Wow. What an amazing story. Pieces of the fairytale are told throughout the book and Rebecca must use all of her journalism skills to track down the true story of Gemma.

And what a story it is. A horrific, terrible, heartbreaking story.

The same friend always asks me why I read books about the Holocaust either non-fiction or fiction, with this one being the later. I always pause. How can you say that a book about the Holocaust is fabulous? While books about the Holocaust all have the markings of a great book – action, sadness, great characters – it’s not a story; those characters are real people who had to deal with things I hope no human every has to deal with again.

I always come to the end of Holocaust books with an overwhelming sadness and disgust that we could treat people like that. I always come away learning more about the Holocaust, and those who lived through it, then I ever want to know. Yet, I still read them. I still recommend them.

I would suggest reading Briar Rose for a fast-paced mystery with people who show more courage then I hope to ever have to show. And you should also read Briar Rose to learn about the 320,000 people who died at Chelmno, and how the Nazi Germans treated homosexuals, and anyone else who didn’t fit their master plan.

Note: Raincoast Books sent me this book, but the opinions are my own.

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