In this well-crafted novel, Jane Yolen reimagines the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty as a non-fantastic story of one woman’s incredible rescue from a Nazi death camp during the Holocaust. Becca, a young progressive American woman, promises her dying grandmother that she will investigate her past and find out the truth about her history. Becca’s grandmother never told her daughter or granddaughters anything about her past, except for a modified version of Sleeping Beauty in which the princess is the only person rescued from endless sleep. Her grandmother claims to be that princess, sending Becca on a quest to uncover her grandmother’s secret past. Her investigation leads her to one of the darkest pieces of modern history — and a vision of hope.
This book is a sensitive Holocaust novel — disturbing, yet balanced with hope and joy. Yolen’s writing is excellent. She tells her simple, well-crafted story with grace and elegance, developing well-rounded characters and believable settings. The reworking of a classic fairy tale as a modern, real-life story works quite well, in my opinion, presenting the tragic and horrible events of the Holocaust in a manner that is both respectful and uplifting. Basically, I really enjoyed reading this book. It drew me in and I read it almost in one sitting.
The one thing that really disappointed me about this novel was its sub-theme regarding acceptance of homosexuality. One of the book’s main characters is a gay man who was sent to a concentration camp because of his homosexual activities. Here and in other parts of the plot, the book goes out of its way to belabor its theme that homosexuality is morally acceptable and normal. Thus the acceptability of homosexuality becomes a central theme in a book that otherwise lauds morally upright behavior such as courage and self-sacrifice.
Content warning: The book contains some sexual references, including several which refer to gay sex and a couple of crude double entendres. It also contains disturbing descriptions of Holocaust violence and occasional bad language. Yolen does show some restraint in all three areas, but the content makes the book more appropriate for older teens and adults, in my opinion, in spite of its being marketed as a YA novel.