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Briar Rose | Jane Yolen | Review

“Once upon a time…” Becca and her sisters grew up hearing the story of Sleeping Beauty from their beloved Grandmother Gemma. On face value it feels like the original fairytale but it’s not the traditional story with a happy ending. Gemma’s version ‘Briar Rose’ was indeed the beautiful princess who was placed under a sleeping curse along with the rest of the inhabitants of her castle, but this princess was red headed – like Becca’s own Grandmother – and when the prince comes to save the day, the only person to wake from their slumber is Briar Rose. It was an unusual and at times scary story for the young girls but a tale that they made Gemma tell over and over again. 

Now a young woman, Becca still remembers the tale and as her ailing Grandmother Gemma is lying on her deathbed she makes a remarkable confession. Gemma is the princess who awoke from her slumber and her last wish is for Becca to find the castle and the prince from what she thought was just a fairytale.

With only a single mismatched box of Gemma’s belongings to guide her, Becca embarks on a fairytale-like quest of her own into her family’s history. Her search for the truth isn’t the easiest when she finds out that Gemma may have lied about her whole past and even her name. Becca has a breakthrough, which takes her away from her life in America to Poland to follow tale that spans back in time to the Second World War and the horrors of the Holocaust. 

So what’s my verdict?

This book was not what I expected. What starts out as a girl trying to find out whether a fairytale can really exist in this world turns into a moving journey into her Grandmother’s life before she immigrated to America. Telling the finer details of this story would reveal major plot points, but as I mentioned in my summary the story takes Becca away from the fantastical elements of the Sleeping Beauty story and replaces it with something much more haunting. The truth in the tale, told in a separate story within the book, is more disturbing than Becca can imagine and even more to so for the reader when you realise there were many stories just like it during the midst of World War II.

It’s not so much Becca’s story (though her journey does lead her to question everything she knew about her own life and childhood) but that of Gemma herself. Peppered with flashbacks to Becca’s past, when Gemma would be retelling the story to her young granddaughter, Gemma’s presence is felt throughout. Briar Rose is essentially historical fiction at it’s darkest; nevertheless it’s a poignant story that will leave you realising why Gemma chose to remember the fairytale than the truth. 

Reading Soundtrack: 

The Woods: Daughter; Young & Beautiful: Lana Del Ray; Fix You: Coldplay; Poison & Wine: The Civil Wars; Hospital Beds: Florence + The Machine; Human: Charlene Kaye 

For lovers of

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Schindler’s List and The Diary of Anne Frank.

Image (c)Ria Cagampang


  1. This sounds really good, I love fairy tale retellings especially when they become grittier and more realistic.

    Bella | BELLAETC

  2. This sounds like an interesting concept! Thanks for your great review!


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