This novel, a different take on Sleeping Beauty, was...not what I expected. I was expecting more of an Ella Enchanted type of fractured fairytale, which is how it was presented to me in the review I originally read. It's not so much an indirect retelling of Sleeping Beauty; instead, Yolen uses Sleeping Beauty directly to discuss the Holocaust.
On her deathbed, an elderly Polish woman who is convinced she's a fairy tale princess asks her granddaughter, Becca, to trace her family history. After she passes away, Becca, who just happens to be a super liberal reporter, decides to jet off to Poland to find out what her grandmother (Gemma) kept hidden about her past. All she has is a box of documents that was hidden for years, some background research, and the memories of all the times Gemma told her the story of Briar Rose, with some minor changes.
The structure of the novel is really effective. Every other chapter is a memory of Gemma telling the story; each flashback progresses the fairy tale a little bit. In between the flashbacks, Becca completes her research on her Gemma's past. She discovers the horrors she lived through during WWII and can finally understand why Gemma believed she was Briar Rose.
However, the narration was awkward: I noticed a few times that the 3rd person narrator would comment on Becca's thoughts, and then Becca would just say what she's thinking. Also, the subplots regarding her struggles with romance and her sisters felt unnecessary and took away from the search for her family's past.
But, all in all, it's an interesting use of Sleeping Beauty and a unique way to discuss the Holocaust. It's a quick read, obviously depressing, but ultimately uplifting. Just don't expect an entirely new version of Sleeping Beauty if you choose to read the novel.