When I was 12 all I wanted to read were stories about WWII. I was fascinated by the incredible feats of survival and bravery the average person was able to accomplish and couldn’t wrap my head around the scope and horror of the war. I wasn’t alone; many children gravitate to books about war, which parents can sometimes find unsettling or worrisome. There is still a lot to be learned from the war (and other wars) and if a child is interested in reading more about the subject I say let them!
My interest in WWII, particular the role of women in the war, has subsisted into adulthood and some of my favourite adult books (Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy, Coventry by Helen Humphreys, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society come to mind) are WWII novels. Code Name Verity is not just top-notch YA, but grade A WWII fiction.
Warning: this review contains spoilers!
In the first half the of the book we are reading Verity’s confession, which she has traded for her clothes and a very small amount of dignity from her Nazi interrogators. Even at the brink of exhaustion, malnourished, and the victim of torture, Verity is high-spirited, feisty and a survivor. She sidetracks her interrogators with the story of Maddie, a young female pilot and her best friend. The second half of the book is told by Maddie herself, who we have been lead to believe died in a bad landing. Maddie is very much alive and well and has become a member of the resistance, dedicated not necessarily to the war effort, but to bringing her dear friend Verity home.
This book is a gorgeous story of friendship and the lengths people go for each other. Maddie and Verity seem to be opposites in every way, including their upbringing, abilities, and outlooks on life. They both go to great lengths for each other and rhapsodize about each other’s qualities in a way that is endearing and authentic. Don’t we all want to be a little bit like our friends?
For readers who like to know how things happened there is excellent insight into the lives of young pilots (especially female pilots), resistance workers, and life in general during the war. The friendship is the heart of this story but the details and the exceptional plotting are what kept me obsessively reading. Author Elizabeth Wein is a pilot and her firsthand experience makes the flight scenes that much more believable.
Pay attention as you read, because everything- and I mean everything- is important. I was incredibly impressed with how Wein drops hints and clues all the way through Verity’s confession that don’t seem important until you get to Maddie’s narrative. Writers could learn a lot about plotting from her!
There was a lot of hype surrounding this book and I’m happy to say it lived up to my incredibly high expectations. Code Name Verity is an impeccably plotted and heartbreaking novel of espionage and friendship. Fans of What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Tamar by Mal Peet and any WWII fiction will cherish Code Name Verity again and again.
Code Name Verity is available now in hardcover from Doubleday Canada.