Briar Rose is in fact a beautiful blend of romance and history, which suits the taste of every young reader. It is the tale of a young woman's quest to uncover the mystery of her deceased grandmother's horrific Holocaust past. Though Yolen does not gloss over the reality of the Holocaust, she makes it quite readable by using the fairytale of 'Sleeping Beauty' as a metaphor for the sordid past. By making use of fantastical elements, Yolen unravels the imagination of her young readers. Gemma's use of traditional fairytale lines like - "once upon a time" and "they lived happily ever after" soothes the young reader. The memory loss of Gemma is a clever narrative ploy by the author to spare her readers the grizzly details of the past. By deploying conventional elements of a fantasy, Yolen manages to mitigate the savagery of World War II. The barbed wire used by the Nazis is represented by the thicket of thorns, the extermination camp becomes the castle, the pathetic woman who escapes being gassed is turned into a princess and the homosexual partisan who resuscitates the dying woman becomes the prince. It somehow drives home the point that fantasy must inform reality. However, it is interesting to see that Jane Yolen has expanded the average fairytale/fantasy genre to introduce some complex situations and characters. The young reader will also benefit from the high literary quality of the novel. The techniques used by the author are sophisticated and innovative. The 'Sleeping Beauty' fairytale runs parallel to the main narrative. This helps in unfolding the story gradually and revealing the truth of Gemma's past.
Adults who are highly critical of the implicit homosexuality in the novel fail to appreciate the fact that Yolen is merely giving a voice to some marginalized groups. Whereas most of the Holocaust literature comprises of heartbreaking accounts of Jewish extermination, Yolen goes a step further to include the painful stories of women and homosexuals as well, who suffered just as much as the Jews. In the present times, when most teachers are teaching students to become sensitive to minorities and eliminate racial bias, it is indeed unfortunate to see some critics trying to support intolerance towards minority groups.
The allegations against Briar Rose do not hold much water. On the contrary, reading the book can give the young readers a perspective and a measure of control. It makes for a good read because of its double narrative strategy and a gripping tale at the centre. The adults can also put their fears to rest because the narrator of the story is Becca, a young girl, and one can grasp only as much as she can comprehend.
There are a lot of lessons a young reader can learn from this piece of historical fiction. Gemma becomes an embodiment of Jewish endurance. She stands for the victory of good over evil. Her imagination helps her to survive spiritually. When Gemma says, "I am Briar Rose", it speaks volumes about her undaunted human spirit and survival instinct. Gemma's character also tends to have universal appeal because the author does not ground her life with a pre-war past. She therefore comes to represent every victim, every survivor of the