When Rose Wakes by Christopher Golden is the penultimate twisted fairytale. Golden takes the basic story of Sleeping Beauty and adds elements of horror while bringing it into a modern high school setting that young adults can relate to.
As she struggles to regain her life, Rose is haunted by terrifying nightmares she cannot understand but which seem vaguely familiar and appear to hold the clue to her past. When she mentions the dreams to her aunts they try to comfort her by telling her that they are "only dreams" that have no meaning.Instead they tell her to drink a bitter tea they make for her every day to help her regain her memory.
Eventually, Rose begins classes as a sophomore at St. Bridget's High School in Boston's Back Bay where she is known as "Coma Girl". Rose struggles to fit in and cope with the typical high school cliques and conflicts. It doesn't take her long to meet and befriend a handsome junior, tall, muscular, Jared Munoz and make a best friend in Kylie O'Neill. But she also makes enemies with Courtney Sauer who takes an instant dislike to Rose often becoming confrontational with her.
As time goes on bizarre happenings continue to plague Rose. Besides the increasingly detailed nightmares, there is also a strange woman who Rose discovers is following her as well as the creepy presence of black crows who appear to be watching her every move. Her Aunt's persistent warnings that she stay away from boys - all boys move Rose to rebel against their warnings and to pursue a relationship with Jared. She feels that Aunt Suzette and Aunt Fay are out of touch and unreasonably old-fashioned. Yet there are hints from her nightmares that guys are dangerous.
Eventually Rose begins to realize that her dreams are very similar to the fairytale story of Sleeping Beauty.Is she the princess? Is there a curse on her too and if so what part of it includes love and intimacy?
It isn't until Rose is violently attacked at school by Courtney that her Aunts tell her the truth about her past,the present about themselves and about the actual curse on her. I won't reveal how Golden weaves into the modern setting the story of Rose's past and the Sleeping Beauty fairytale because that would simply give away too much plot. But from this point on, the story moves breathtakingly fast. There is an epic battle between good and bad that involves Rose, her Aunts and their spurned sister.
The ending is bizarre and unsatisfying in some aspects. For me, this bizarreness ruined the book. It was strangely out of character with the situations and the characters involved. If someone were really trying to kill you and you knew they would never ever stop, would you spare them? I also found the entire premise of the fairytale element unworkable because the present day situation and that which occurred in the past is actually based on the dishonourable behaviour of Rose's father, the Duke of Rigauld.
There is an element of horror in this story but it's not overwhelming and Christopher Golden writing is well done in this regard. I wished there had been more character development for Rose's aunts but Golden does a great job developing the sweet romance between Rose and Jared. It is this romantic element which helps to hold the reader's interest in the middle of the novel when there is not much action occurring.
Overall, I think most young readers will enjoy When Rose Wakes, especially if they are fans of Golden's previous books. When Rose Wakes is a good blend of romance, mystery and horror. But I hazard that they will ultimately be very disappointed in the bizarre ending.
When Rose Wakes by Christopher Golden
New York: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) 2010