Study Guide

Briar Rose Family

By Jane Yolen


"This was a promise to Gemma," said Becca, hanging up and feeling—as she usually did after arguing with one of her sisters—morally oppressed. (16.86)

Ah, sisters. To paraphrase the great Rowlf: you can't live with 'em; you can't live without 'em.

She understood her sisters entirely and loved them, even though she often hated the things they said. It was why she came to the nursing home every afternoon after work at the newspaper and stayed with Gemma three and four hours each weekend…. (2.68)

Best. Granddaughter. Ever. Seriously, though, this is real family dedication from a 23-year-old. Family is clearly super important to Becca. Especially the grandmother part of her family, as opposed to the sister part of it.

The funeral was a small affair, only a couple dozen people at the synagogue. Gemma had been a private person and there wasn't much in the way of family. (4.1)

"Private person" seems like a bit of an understatement. Grandma Gemma was more full of secrets than Laura Palmer.

"What family?" Mrs. Berlin asked. "I always thought I was all her family." "Until we came along," Becca added, remembering how often Gemma had said, "This is my family," loudly and with such outlandish pride at every graduation or Honor Society induction or ball game that they had all been embarrassed. (16.13-16.14)

Why did Gemma always make such a big deal about her family? Why did it seem outlandish or embarrassing to her granddaughters?

"Tell me again why you searched for your birth mother." … "Because…" he whispered, "what's past is prologue." (16.53 and 16.59)

Here's Stan, who's a bit of a dork, quoting Shakespeare to Becca. He means that the past has an important influence over the present. It sets the stage, so to speak. Next thing you know, he'll be pulling out a skull and putting on his best Hamlet.

Clearly her father was still troubled about the trip because within days Becca got three phone calls, one from Sylvia, two from Shana. (16.80)

That's a lot of calls—especially when you consider this was before the days of cell phones and family plans.

"I…we…all loved her very, very much. We lived together, all in one house." "A large house?" "A very large house, sir." "Ah…she would have liked that." (23.58-23.60)

It pleases Josef to hear about Gemma's life in the United States. It's interesting, isn't it, that Becca and her family lived with Gemma for all those years, yet knew nothing about her life before the war.

He put his arm around her and, inadvertently, his hand touched the boy's. He forced himself not to shrink from the contact. "We will take charge of her," he said to the others. "We are her family now." (30.13)

Josef doesn't consider himself a war hero, but we thought this line (which is about Gemma, of course) was pretty swell. Funny how fighting to save lives and combat injustice can give you the ol' family feels.

"Oh, my dear, my dear, you do look so much like her. How could I have missed it?" (32.6)

Becca is a ginger (a.k.a. a redhead), as was Gemma. Why did the resemblance mean so much to Becca when she was a little girl?

"Write to an old man now and then. I think I am your step-grandfather, in everything but name." (32.43)

Becca mistakes Josef for her grandfather at first, but her real grandfather (the awesomely named Avenger) died in the war. Still, having Josef as your pen pal has got to be the next best thing.