Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Lynn:  As veteran Bookends readers know, we are never short of opinions!  So let me say straight out that Elizabeth Wein’s earlier Arthurian/Ethiopian series  is as innovative as it is beautifully written and, in my opinion anyway, never received the attention it deserved.  Her new book, Code Name Verity (Hyperion 2012) again displays this extraordinary craftsmanship and is receiving stars everywhere.  It is, in my opinion again, one of the best of this publishing year and I hope she gains both the attention and the readership she truly deserves.  So pay attention people!

The book opens with the “reports” of a young imprisoned English spy.  Tortured and terrified, Julie has capitulated to her Nazi captors and is telling them everything they want to know and more:  radio codes, location of airfields, training, background, people.  Julie is spinning out the tale, eking out each precious moment before the Nazis either kill her or send her to the concentration camps.  The time, place and people vibrate with immediacy and as a reader I was grabbed by the throat and held prisoner every bit as tightly as Julie herself.

With a jarring abruptness, the book shifts narrator in the second half, switching to Julie’s friend Maddie, pilot of the plane that crash landed them both in occupied France.  And it is Maddie that turns everything we thought we knew upside down and inside out and the picture truly comes into focus.

This is brilliant writing.  Wein takes risks with the structure and that risk pays off, providing incredible depth to the character development,  heightening tension, altering the pacing and keeping the reader guessing right up to the very end.  This is a heart-wrenching and deeply tragic story but it is also a story the highlights the very best in human nature, shining a light on two incredibly brave young women and their friendship – a friendship that gave them strength and power and ultimately gives us all hope.

Cindy: Whenever I think that I’ve read every WWII story that I need to read, another one comes along and knocks me off my feet…like Tamar by Mal Peet or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak…or in this case, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. And, like those books, you’ll want to read this one carefully, paying close attention to the subtle clues that are dropped throughout, starting with the opening lines:

I AM A COWARD. I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.

If you are strong of heart, it’s one of those books that you will immediately want to reread. I’d like to read it again by listening to it on audio. But the plot with its twists and turns is only one strength of the novel. The two narrators are very different: class backgrounds, roles within the war effort, reliability, and voice. Julie’s dangerous wise-cracking (in her written reports and directly with her captors) in the face of death made me chuckle while fearing for her safety. Whatever you do, don’t call her English. She is Scottish! The humorous bits are very welcome in a story with as much torture and tragedy as this one.

The author’s debriefing at the back of the book explains what is truthful in the novel (and what is not) and is fascinating. Among other things I learned that Wein is a pilot herself, and how research led to plot points and plot issues led to research and solutions–and in some cases–to new plot directions. Teens might opt to skip these sections, but I never do. This one was particularly rewarding. In fact, it led me to Elizabeth Wein’s website in search of a pilot photo of her (there may be one, but I got distracted). Instead, in a section called “Vintage Verity” I found photos and blog links for knitting projects (from 1940s patterns) and have proof that Wein is not only an excellent writer, but she wields a mean knitting needle (or four). Check out the photo of her in her handknitted sweater…and let me know if you find a pilot photo.

At a recent BBYA alumni party that Lynn and I held with some of our twenty-something past students, we heard complaints about how all of the good fantasy and paranormal stories are ruined by the the kick-ass heroine getting sidetracked with her love triangle angst. They think the interesting stories are all ruined with romance. I’d booktalk this with older high school teens with the hook about friendship. “What would you do to stand up for a friend? What would you risk if you knew your friend was in danger? Wait until you see what these two girls do for each other!” Besides the obvious high school audience for this book, it will make a great cross-over title for adult book clubs. Caution: the bondage cover art might make people think you are reading a Fifty Shades of Gray read-alike. 😉 Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I’m just back from a glorious vacation and am hardly awake, let alone able to write seriously!





About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

3 Comments on "Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1.' CLM says:

    This was my favorite book of the year and my sister liked it too but said she would not recommend it for her tender-hearted daughters because of the torture. She wondered why it was published as YA, whereas I like you simply thought adult readers would also enjoy it. I know I would have read it as a teen but are they more used to violence in fantasy than in historical fiction?

    By the way, enjoyed the description of your summer inventory – sorry no obvious treasures turned up.

  2. CLM–thanks for your comments. Lynn and I have discussed this a number of times over the years. I think your sister, as a mother of daughters (as I am), reads differently than her teenage daughters do. They immerse themselves in the story and, certainly, care about the main characters, but they do not read it in the same way as your sister does. And I’d argue that history (and therefore historical fiction if it is true to its subject) is fraught with more violence than fantasy by a long shot. War is ugly. I am far more bothered by historical fiction that sugar coats that fact. And, I am happy to have another story of the bravery and contribution of women in our history added to the male-dominated cannon. In the end, Code Name Verity will be enjoyed by both adults and teens simply because it is an extraordinary story, extraordinarily told.–Cindy

Post a Comment