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Rose Under Fire

I loved Elizabth Wein’s first novel, Code Name Verity, but it wasn’t until I was researching for my post about the covers for female authors’ books, that I realised there was a sequel. Rose Under Fire (published by Egmont) continues the story of Maddie Brodatt, but is mostly about Rose Justice, an American ATA pilot in Britain in 1944. She is captured and ends up in Ravensbrück, a German prison camp for women. The book describes a part of WWII that I didn’t really know much about before: the experiments performed on Polish prisoners, who were nicknamed ‘Rabbits’. The experiments were performed on seventy-four Polish women. The doctors claimed to be improving medical conditions for German soldiers by cutting the women’s legs in different ways and deliberately giving them gangrene.

Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (published by Egmont).

I was also struck by descriptions of the prisoners ‘organizing’ things, which meant stealing things to bribe the guards with or extra food or newspapers. One thing that really stood out for me was the co-operation and support between the prisoners, who were all in the same boat, as it were.

After detailing Rose’s time in the prison camp, some of the war trials are also recounted, as well as her struggle to return to normal life, still haunted what she has seen in Ravensbrück.

The story is told mostly through Rose’s own writing, first when she is in England, and later in Paris after the end of the war. A few letters from her friends and family are used

As with Code Name Verity, this book has a rather dramatic tagline, which sums up the spirit of the women who suffered during the experiments. In Code Name Verity it was ‘I have told the truth’, in Rose Under Fire, ‘tell the world’. In other words, the world must know what happened in Ravensbrück, of the atrocities and horrors, but also of the bravery and strength of the women who survived, and those who died.

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I think this cover looks familiar…

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a very disappointing thing in bookshops and libraries, and that is the covers put onto books by female authors. I’ve come to the conclusion that publishers are either not creative, don’t want to spend time on books by women or have a very narrow view of what teenagers want from book jackets.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Many YA/teen novels by women have covers like this.

A large number of young adult/teen fiction novels by women have dull jackets that are just unimaginative variations on the same theme. The most common image is of a single girl or young woman with an appropriate background. The person stares out at you with an inscrutable expression.

There are numerous examples to illustrate this statement. I blogged about Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion Books) previously, when you search for it online several covers can be found. I prefer the one with the bicycles but two others have a girl’s head on them. One is in profile and the other looks out from the cover, with suitably dramatic backgrounds. If that’s the first time you’ve seen this type of cover, it looks deep and impressing, but keep looking down the shelves, there are many more. Witch Child, Sorceress, Sovay and Pirates! by Celia Rees (all published by Bloomsbury) have suffered the same fate. Pirate Queen by Morgan Llywelyn (O’Brien Press) and several of Mary Hooper’s books are also designed in the same style. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Penguin Books) breaks the mould in an amusing, although perhaps unintentional way. There is a girl on the front, but she has her back turned, so you can’t see her face.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

A popular image, but facing away from the reader

All of the books that I mentioned above have strong female protagonists and the cover designs are so inappropriate. The girls’ expressions do differ somewhat, from determined to dangerous to dopey, but they are still weirdly alike. The old phrase holds true here that ‘when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’.

Usually, books from one genre will have similar covers, but these books are not the same. It is unfair to the authors to take romantic, historical and adventurous stories and lump them all in one category. As all these books are put together, one wonders what feature they share. It’s fairly clear, all these books have been written by women. So it seems that despite the variety of plot, setting, language and characters to be found in all of these books, they are all labelled and packaged according to who wrote them.

Pirate Queen by Morgan Llywelyn

There are many variations to this type of book jacket.

Maybe publishers don’t think teenagers want more unusual book jackets, and I can’t comment on how accurate that judgement is, if that is their reasoning. However, I do know that if an interesting title catches my eye on the spine of a book and I have a closer look at the cover, seeing the familiar staring face on the jacket will not inspire me to read it. Although it’s good advice not to judge a book by its cover, it doesn’t mean people don’t. Even if you don’t decide whether to read it or not based on the cover, if the outside doesn’t interest you, it’s possible you won’t approach the book with an open mind. The imagery on a book jacket can cause you to have certain preconceptions about the story, and the obvious one here is to think that it will be the same as all the others with the same type of jacket. If you were to read a selection of the books that I mentioned above, or any others that looked the same, you would know that this is untrue. However, what does it tell us about publishers, do they think all YA/teen novels by female authors are the same? Certainly, all the books feature girl who ‘go places’, but all in hugely different circumstances.

Witch Child by Celia Rees

This type of cover can look haunting, sad, enticing…

I think that publishers should really pull up their socks in this area and start designing some original and unusual book covers for women authors’ YA and teen fiction. It is silly to bracket all of these books together, when they are so diverse.Each of these novels have something different to offer. Surely their covers should reflect this? Let me know what you think about this topic. The comment box is open…



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Sorceress by Celia Rees

After a while, it gets boring, seeing the same thing over and over again.

Pirates! by Celia

However, this image is repeated very often.

Code Name Verity

I have just finished reading Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (published by Electric Monkey Egmont).  It is an adventure story set in England, Scotland and France during WWII. The reason I am going to talk about it is that the two main characters are young women, doing highly dangerous and skilled work with courage and daring.

It is a difficult book to talk about without spoiling the plot so I can only really be quite vague or else run the risk of ruining it for any potential readers. The story has two main characters, both young women, who are involved in war work. The story is mainly about flying, interrogation, spying and undercover secret duties.

There are a few threads that run through the whole story, one of which is a list of fears. When the two characters meet, they tell each other ten of their fears. Later, when they are separated, they review what they said before and see how much it has been changed by their experiences.

Another thread is the names. What with code names and nicknames and so on, both of the characters have several identities, depending on who they are with and what they are doing. I like this idea, of discovering different parts of the character as you discover their names. On top of that, the title of the book really drew me in, I like finding books with my own name in them!

Another theme in the book is that of lies and truth. One of the first things it says in the book is, ‘I’m going to give you anything you ask,…. Absolutely Every Last Detail.’ This gives the impression of betrayal, but maybe all is not as it seems.

There is a quote from the Guardian on the book that says, ‘Code Name Verity is one of those rare things: an exciting-and affecting- female adventure story.’ It is very exciting and it certainly is affecting, I am not ashamed to say that it made me cry. There is no mincing words about the methods of interrogation or the conditions in which people were imprisoned.

The Guardian is right in another way, it is rare to find a female adventure story, or at least one without kissing. In Code Name Verity, there is more comradeship than love, which makes it more realistic. I loved reading this book because of the realism, comradeship and excellent female characters.

Have you read any books with good female characters lately? Or tell me your opinions on Code Name Verity


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