Title: Code Name Verity

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Genre: Historical, Young Adult

Publisher: Egmont (UK) / Disney-Hyperion (US)
Publication date: February 6 2012 / May 15 2012
Hardcover/Paperback: 452 pages

I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine – and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France – and Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Estara, one of our regular readers, was kind enough to send me a copy of the book as a gift.

Why did I read this book: Estara (who was a beta-reader for the book) had been telling me about it for months now. She suggested it, cajoled me into reading it (not that I needed any cajoling into reading this, I love stories about women during WWII) and she was SO RIGHT. I am extremely thankful to her.

Review:

1943, England and France. Maddie and her best friend Queenie (“Verity”) are a sensational team, a pair of unlikely best friends. One: an English commoner, a pilot for the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) with a passion for flying and a penchant for mechanics. Two: a Scottish aristocrat, a spy with a way with words, working with the SOE (Special Operations Executive). Both: doing their part for the British War Effort.

No. No, no, no. Wait a minute. I am doing this wrong. Let me start again.

It starts with a confession: “I AM A COWARD”. And it comes from a female spy captured by the Gestapo in France. Under torture, she caved in and spat out codes and airfields locations. She will do anything, anything to avoid being interrogated again by SS von Linden and this means coughing up everything she knows about the British War Effort. But her story starts with Maddie, the pilot who brought her here and in telling Maddie’ story – and eventually her own – she hopes to buy a few more weeks of life. Any life is better than no life even if she knows she will be killed in the end. She does it for clothes – of all things – and because she can’t cope. She is the worst of all people in time of war: a collaborator.

Her story mixes first person and third person narratives. The first comes with the immediate horror, the guilt, the fear, the trapped-in -a–cell-with-her-torturers-observing-her, no food, no sleep, her ankles tightly bound to the chair, an iron rail tied against her spine and the certainty that her best friend is dead and soon so will she be.

The latter is her best friend’s Maddie’s story and how she became a pilot with the ATA, how they met, how they became friends and everything about their friendship including who they met and how they became part of the War Effort which involve some of the secrets the Nazis are not supposed to know.

And so, the Scottish spy tells the truth.

If I were writing this review on paper it would be smeared all over because of my tears. I haven’t stopped crying since I finished reading this book a few hours ago.

This is an amazing story and it feels like it was written especially for me. It features so many of my favourite things: it is an epistolary novel and I love them. I also happen to love books with unreliable narrators and there is always a degree of unreliability when it comes to the narrator of an epistolary novel but a spy narrating a story under duress? That has got to be the most elemental of unreliable narrators and as such, how much of her confession is really the truth?

All of it? Parts of it? None of it?

When she describes her torture, her bruises, her broken heart, her fear and her guilt, I believe she is telling the truth with all my heart. I believe her and I understand her. I expect I would crumble under torture and no one can ever convince me that a person who caves in under torture is a spineless coward. On the other side of the spectrum, I don’t want her to be telling the truth either. Such a bright, effusive, clever young woman, hand-picked to be a spy? I want her to be brave – like the French girl next door to her who is tortured every single day and hasn’t said a word. Most of all, I just really want her to be cleverer than the horrible people interrogating her. But how much of that is an impossible expectation based on unfair standards? This is a great source of conflict and this book offers a great opportunity for an examination of bravery, cowardice and patriotism. How impacting is this line?

“The warmth and dignity of my flannel skirt and woolly jumper are worth far more to me now than patriotism or integrity.”

On top of this, this is also a book about writing (because Verity is in effect writing a novel when she is writing her confession), about the love for reading, about the Second World War, the roles women could play at the time and also: PERIL, SUSPENCE AND SPIES!! It is all SO CLEVER, it actually reminded me of Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen Thief’s books. That is all I am going to say on the subject because saying more is to spoil the story and this to me, would be unforgivable.

Above all though, Code Name Verity is about its two main characters, two incredible women (I LOVE them. I.LOVE.THEM) and the friendship they had – they are indeed sensational and I wish I could tell you how or why but I can’t really tell you more about Verity without stealing her thunder. This too, would be unforgivable. It also features one of the best lines about friendship I have ever read, a line that is so simple and so spot on and so true when it came to these two characters, it made me start crying from that moment on:

“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”

Isn’t it just?

Granted that there was a degree of suspension of disbelief required: I mean, would the Gestapo be so patient with the manner that “Verity” has chosen to write her confession? At times, I also felt the language was perhaps too modern…Do I really care about those? No, I don’t. When a story is this good, the characters so vivid you wish they were real people, the writing so gripping you feel like your heart is being torn out of your chest? That’s the stuff that reminds me how wonderful reading can be.

Code Name Verity is a sensational book. Hands down my favourite read so far this year and already on my top 10 of 2012.

One last thing: I feel I need to pass on the kind advice I received before I started reading it. If you decide to read this book, keep a box of tissues at hand. There will be tears, and they will be sad ones. But it’s worth it, it is SO worth it.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

I AM A COWARD

I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending. I spent the first twelve years of my life playing at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers, and even though I am a girl they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to be one of our ancestors, because I did the most rousing battle speeches. God, I tried hard last week. My God, I tried. But now I know I am a coward. After the ridiculous deal I made with SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden, I know I am a coward. And I’m going to give you anything you ask, everything I can remember. Absolutely Every Last Detail.

Here is the deal we made. I’m putting it down to keep it straight in my own mind. ‘Let’s try this,’ the Hauptsturmführer said to me. ‘How could you be bribed?’ And I said I wanted my clothes back.

It seems petty, now. I am sure he was expecting my answer to be something defiant – ‘Give me Freedom’ or ‘Victory’ – or something generous, like ‘Stop toying with that wretched French Resistance laddie and give him a dignified and merciful death.’ Or at least something more directly connected to my present circumstance, like ‘Please let me go to sleep’ or ‘Feed me’ or ‘Get rid of this sodding iron rail you have kept tied against my spine for the past three days.’ But I was prepared to go sleepless and starving and upright for a good while yet if only I didn’t have to do it in my underwear – rather foul and damp at times, and SO EMBARRASSING. The warmth and dignity of my flannel skirt and woolly jumper are worth far more to me now than patriotism or integrity.

*sobs*

Additional Thoughts: Elizabeth Wein is our guest today and she is talking about the literary inspiration behind Code Name Verity. Check it out here.

Rating: 10 – Perfect

Reading Next: I don’t even know. After this, what could I possibly read?

Buy the Book:

Ebook available for kindle UK and kobo

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53 Responses to Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

  1. Chachic says:

    You gave it a 10! Woohoo! I’m SO GLAD that you finally read an Elizabeth Wein novel. I had a feeling you would love her (I first found out about her through MWT and Sounis) and it makes me happy that we both felt the same way about this book. Those tissues? I really needed them. Yes to unreliable narrators. Yes to books that focus on friendship. Yes to Verity and Maddie and how they make a sensational team. I can’t wait to get my physical copy of Code Name Verity so I can read it again.

  2. Estara says:

    AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW :mrgreen::mrgreen::mrgreen:

    Such a relief you enjoyed it and for basically the same things I loved the book for – even as it is not and will never be an easy reread. It’s just so nourishing, this celebration of female friendship and ingenuity under the toughest conditions no matter what.

    I was SO SURE you would love it – but something may always bring a different impression so there’s no 100% surety of hitting the sweet spot of another reader.

    By the way, the Canadians get their very own CNV via Doubleday Canada on the same date as the USians.

    I still like the UK cover best, I have to say.

  3. Maureen E says:

    YAY! So glad you loved it! And yes, tissues and hours of crying seem to be a universal reaction. Gah.

  4. Sarah says:

    OH MY GOD, I want to read this book so much! I was practically salivating reading your review. But I want the cover on the left – and I have a sinking feeling that’s probably the British one, right?

  5. Tori says:

    I am so glad you loved it. And your review is fantastic.

    The trick is to read something entirely different as your next book. When I beta read it, I read Persuasion and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay as my next book, and having just finished the real live actual finished book, I am now reading The Marriage Plot.

  6. Ana says:

    *highfives* Such an excellent book, you guys.

    @ Sarah – Yes that one is the UK cover. You can order from Book Depository UK RIGHT NOW (free delivery worldwide!)

  7. Ana says:

    @ Tori – do you know, that is really interesting. Because I feel inclined to look for MORE of this type of book right now….

  8. Tori says:

    Ana, I have been sitting around wanting to reread Atonement since Saturday; have you read it? The reason I had to do something completely different, why I had to read about semiotics and Victorian novels, or boys writing comic books (I might have actually read this in the middle), is that if I tried to read something similar I would just sit around and compare it and it would absolutely fail to live up to Code Name Verity.

    I Capture the Castle is amazing. Cassandra Mortmain is almost as wonderful a narrator as our Verity.

  9. Jodie says:

    I remember one of the most interesting pieces of understanding I ever gained about our conception of cowardice vs reality under torture came from Sean Bean in some kind of modern army drama long ago. His character says that it’s impossible not to give in to torture, that no one in the army realistically expects it of their soldiers now and that the ultimate goal is to avoid giving away information long enough for everyone to realise you’ve been grabbed and change their plans/get anyone else involved out. In ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ they talk about having a last line of defense and giving away any other kind of information first, but eventually always being broken, but hopefully after their spie networks have been saved. That doesn’t necessarily keep spies from feeling like cowards due to social ideas about bravery.

    Anyway, total tangent. Hurray I’m so looking forward to this book and seeing what ideas about cowardice were like in WWII society.

  10. Chachic says:

    Oh Ana, can’t decide what to read next? Read EWein’s other books! And tell me what you think of Gen-in-Africa. :mrgreen:

  11. Estara says:

    @Sarah, if you comment here with your e-mail address (in anti-spam format) I could add you to a notification thingy I got from Bookdepository which sends out offers for 10% off the next purchase – these offers are then valid until February 29th. You can import the UK edition then – AND won’t have to wait till May – and it may even be cheaper as the US get a hardcover.

  12. Celine says:

    Putting it on TBR RIGHT NOW (didn;t even read the review because don’t want to know anything but any story that gets a 10 from you is a must read in my book.

  13. Deirdre says:

    I read about this book a few weeks ago on Amazon and it sounded interesting so I put it on my to-buy list. After reading this review I’m so glad I did. I look forward to reading it when it comes out in the U.S.

  14. Memory says:

    This sounds like the sort of book that would utterly destroy me in the best way possible. I must have it.

  15. Paige says:

    Wait, isn’t “Verity’s” real name some sort of spoiler? I read another blog post by Wein where she said that she was grateful that people were being careful not to reveal it.

  16. Maureen E says:

    @Paige, I wouldn’t say it’s a spoiler exactly, but the moment when she reveals her real name was very powerful, IMO. So I think a lot of reviewers are treating it as a spoiler.

  17. Paige says:

    Yeah, that’s the thing — and then here it was practically the first sentence in the review! No doubt the book’s too good to be spoiled by just that, but I’m still kind of annoyed.

  18. Ana says:

    @Paige: I did not spoil nor did I reveal Verity’s real name in the review. Trust me. I would never do that.

  19. Paige says:

    Yay! Thanks, Ana — I couldn’t believe you would!

  20. Amy C says:

    Oh, wow. This looks amazing. I wonder if my library’s purchased it… Annnd, no. :(

    I’ll keep it on my TBR list anyway. I love WWII stories, even though most of them are heartbreaking. (The Book Thief, anyone?)

  21. Cialina says:

    Wow, you have made me unbelievably all kinds of excited to pick this one up right away.

  22. Marg says:

    A perfect 10! Wow!

    I was interested in the book before, but even more so now!

  23. A 10!!?? Wow :D

    Im dying to read this and have been for months but not seen much about it on any blogs. Thanks for the awesome review!

  24. Charlotte says:

    Ok, I’ve finally cracked and will hit the Book Depository later today! And buy stock in Kleenex.

  25. Estara says:

    Ladies, if you want to get this via Book Depository – please leave your e-mail in anti-spam format on this post: They have an offer going where I can send people a coupon for 10% off their next order (valid for a purchase until February 29th).
    I’ll be sending the coupons out this Sunday evening (Europe time) if I get any takers.

  26. [...] reading this review at the Book Smugglers, all I can think is: WOW, I need Code Name Verity right *now*. I was already [...]

  27. DAMN — a ten? That definitely puts this on my must-buy list.

  28. A fantastic review, well befitting the best book I’ve read in ages. Everything you said, with knobs on. It’s just that amazing.

  29. Lauren says:

    Just ordered to the US from amazon.co.uk. You had me had Megan Whalen Turner! :D

  30. Seriously speaking, I couldn’t make up my mind that whether the book is really that good or it’s just been reviewed very well.
    Anyways, I’d prefer to read it. Let’s hope I find it easily in the nearest book store.

  31. KMont says:

    This doesn’t sound at all like something I’d normally pick up…which is why I love coming here for recs. You and Thea just make it ALL sound so tempting lol. Going on my Wish List. ;)

  32. [...] that, I had extremely high expectations for The Sunbird considering that 1) the author wrote Code Name Verity which is so far my favourite 2012 read and 2) the main character of this book has been compared to [...]

  33. Kendra says:

    Just finished this at 5:30am. The tears! Am going through book one and rereading the parts about Queenie’s time in France now that I know everything.

    Reading This Dark Endeavor next, that’s going to cheer me up right?? ;)

  34. Ashleigh says:

    I didn’t intend to read my ARC of this because World War II stories aren’t really for me, but then I remembered your review. A streak of bad book luck had me desperate for something good, so I tried it and OH MY GOD. Be right back, got to go cry some more. Brilliant.

  35. [...] reviews: The Book Smugglers; Things Mean A Lot; Chachic. Share and [...]

  36. [...] book that I have been raving about and thus far it is the BEST book I read in 2012. It is called CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein and it’s about two women – a pilot and a spy – and their [...]

  37. [...] about female friendship and integrity and bravery and is just a really wonderful book – the Book Smugglers’ review tells it much better than I could. [...]

  38. [...] The Book Smugglers – “I haven’t stopped crying since I finished reading this book a few hours ago” [...]

  39. Darlynne says:

    I want to thank you for mentioning this book at Dear Author. It is without doubt one of the finest stories I’ve read in a long time. What strong, human, frightened and determined heroines. Truly astonishing.

  40. [...] a second opinion: Janicu’s Book Blog The Book Smugglers Chachic’s Book Nook Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was [...]

  41. [...] Value: When I first saw this book reviewed, back in February over at The Book Smugglers, I got really excited, because this is such a Sarah-book. Plus, it had this [...]

  42. [...] Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, 10 (Historical, YA, WWII) 2. The Shadowed Sun by N. K. Jemisin, 10 (Fantasy) 3. [...]

  43. [...] Elizabeth Wein’s masterful Code Name Verity (Ana’s review, my review), which pushes the envelope of disbelief, but is so damn good you’re easily able [...]

  44. [...] See the Book Smugglers for a side by side look at the U.K. and U.S. editions of the book. I hear the U.S. paperback edition will not repeat what the NYT review called the “lesbian Fifty Shades of Grey” motif of the hardcover. [...]

  45. cameron latham says:

    well its hard to understand the plot of the book if you dont really get in too it but once you do you are hocked

  46. Anonymous says:

    there is s movie you know..

  47. Anonymous says:

    its pretty good.. as good as the book.. you should watch it..:)

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