Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity Series)
by Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: May 7th, 2013
Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.
When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?
A Michael L. Printz Award Honor book that was called “a fiendishly-plotted mind game of a novel” in The New York Times, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other.
I’m having trouble figuring out where to start with this review. It’s a book about friends, and a book about war, and a book about staying true to what you believe in, and not caring what other people think, and about flying planes and about spies and…well, you get the picture. It’s a book that encompasses so many themes, so many little things, that it’s hard to describe. Elisabeth Wein has woven together a whole group of different threads with a light touch.
Let me start at the beginning, then, shall I?
There are two friends. Best friends, we shall say, although they couldn’t be more different. Maddie is solid, sensible, with hands that are good with machines and a mind that does extremely well with what’s in front of her. Julie is madcap, imaginative, courageous and loyal. They meet in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, WWII, as they huddle in bomb shelters and clean out runways. They stay close even as their paths diverge and merge again, all the way to a crashed plane in France and a Gestapo Headquarters.
It’s a hard book to summarize, mostly because there are two very different parts to it, and a twist I really don’t want to spoil. And there are two very different stories woven together. There’s Verity, huddled in a cell, writing her story as a last desperate attempt to be remembered. There’s the Resistance fighters, trying to figure out what’s happened to her. And there’s the story she’s telling, the story of two friends that would not be parted.
I have to also say, it could be a very difficult book to read. Wein touches on torture, on the fatigue of war, on injury and loss. But it’s handled lightly, gently, almost whimsically, so that you get all of the emotional impact without a hint of grisliness. Verity’s voice is wry when she mentions the abuse she receives, as if she herself does not take it seriously. The narration takes on an almost dreamlike quality discussing Verity’s family, comparing her mother to Mrs. Darling and her brother to Peter Pan. Scenes of fire and death are seen, not with horror, but with recollection and a basic summarizing of facts. One of the only ways in which we see the toll the war takes is with the girl’s individual lists of fears–for instance, one of the fears changes from the college porter to the SS Officer. In this way we can see how much the girls have changed from when they first met, at the beginning of the war, to after their various experiences.
It’s not going to be a book with a happy ending. Verity knows from the first page that she won’t survive her stay with the Gestapo–the only question is how much time she can buy. There are parts where you will sob (or, if you’re like me and reading it on the bus, you will try very very hard not to cry, and you will probably fail). But there’s balance. There’s love, and hope, and forgiveness among the terrible things. Wein has a gentle message at the end, that as terrible as people are, they can also be wonderful.
On that note, there is no truly evil character, or truly good character. The Nazis are portrayed, not as an evil destructive conglomerate, but as human as the girls are. Even Hauptfühhrer Von Linden is redeemed, in some measure, by his love for his daughter, even as he inflicts horrors on the prisoners. Verity and Maddie are torn by actions they take under the guise of war that they see as unconscionable–for instance, ensuring a young German pilot falls into the hands of the British, or their work with the Secret Service. There is a definite impression that Verity and Maddie are on the morally right side, but at the same time Wein questions what actions are truly right and good, and gives the impression that there are no true victors–everyone must pay a price.
But what really makes the book stand out to me is the friendship, Verity and Maddie. They are so very, touchingly real that it amazes me. I want to fly with Maddie, watch as she holds a Lysander steady. I want to be there as Verity pretends she’s William Wallace, fighting the English. I want to drink tea with the Lost Boys and Mrs. Darling, bike around Stockport and hitch a ride with Dympha as she dashes around. The characters are so real you can almost hear them.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.