A Fairy Tale Retold: Horrors, Humanity, and Identity

April 20, 2020


“Briar Rose” by Jane Yolen sets up a story that eventually reveals the character Gemma’s identity. Throughout the story, we find out about Gemma, the grandmother of Becca, her heritage and background, as well as see a bit of Becca’s life. The fairy tale descriptions and references aid Becca in trying to understand the pieces her grandmother left behind after dying - a few cards, a picture, and some documents.


The novel is separated by chapters, and rotating each time with a section that reflects back on Becca’s growing up with her grandmother, usually with small anecdotes. The setup of the novel itself is refreshing - it acts as almost a sort of fairy tale in that sense, especially with the sections and memories Becca has of Gemma telling her the story of Briar Rose.


The use of symbols and symbolic meaning were also another positive aspect of the novel. The fairy tale Briar Rose wasn’t simply just mentioned, but it became the center of the novel. It became a driving force to Becca figuring out why her grandma always called herself the princess, and why the people in the kingdom all fell asleep. The connection of the story to her grandmother’s mystery is riveting, particularly when Becca stumbles upon a Holocaust survivor who gives context about her grandmother.