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.
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.
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: