Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Screen shot 2013-07-27 at 2.27.12 PMI realized after drafting this review that it is the third World War II novel I’ve posted about since I began this blog a couple months ago. Whoops. I promise to mix it up after this.

Published in: 2012

Pages: 332

The protagonist: “Verity”, a Scottish wireless operator (early teens?) and daughter of Scottish aristocracy. Verity is a Gestapo prisoner of war in France in late summer/fall of 1943.

The gist in 100 words or less: Verity and her best friend Maddie, an English Air Transport Auxiliary pilot, have crash-landed their secret mission into France. Verity has been taken prisoner and is being tortured into confessing wireless codes and other Royal Air Force intelligence. Most of the text is Verity’s fictional “written confession” to her Nazi captors, focusing mainly on her friendship with Maddie and how the two ended up coming to France together.

Great stuff: Wein has done a spectacular job developing Verity’s character and giving her a truly unique and unforgettable voice throughout the novel, even when *SPOILER* the story switches away from Verity’s first-person point of view. I would definitely use excerpts in lessons about voice; it was that exceptional.

Also, I may have read the last 100 pages with my hand over my mouth and my eyes wide, and I definitely had to read the climactic scene about four times before I actually believed what I was reading. I very much appreciate it when I am unable to predict how a novel will end, and I certainly could not do so with this one.

Meh: I wasn’t hooked until I was about 150 pages in.

Verity’s voice is compelling and intriguing, and the story is eventually captivating, but the plot moves too slowly for as dense of a text as this is. There are lots of flashbacks to illustrate the history of Verity and Maddie’s friendship–and their friendship is what makes the end of the story so phenomenal–but it just didn’t move fast enough to keep me yearning to pick it back up. Wein is a pilot herself and clearly very interested in the subject, and I found the terminology and references a little over my head. The text was so dense that I feel like I missed a lot; perhaps because I read too fast and am not particularly technical.

I spent the first two-thirds of Code Name Verity wondering what I was missing, since this novel was so critically acclaimed and honored, even by sources I trust [EDIT: Here, too]. By the end, I certainly got it, but I’m not sure if the ending completely redeemed the novel as a whole.

Best quote: [The BEST one is too spoiler-y, so here’s the second best] “Freedom, oh, freedom. Even with the shortages, and the blackout, and the bombs, and the rules, and daily life so drab and dull most of the time–once you cross the English channel you are free. How simple, and amazing really, that no one in France lives without fear, without suspicion. I don’t mean the straightforward fear of fiery death. I mean the insidious, demoralizing fear of betrayal, of treachery, of cruelty, of being silenced. Of not being able to trust your neighbor or the girl who brings you eggs. Only twenty-one miles from Dover.” (148-149)

Parent/teacher alert: Nazi torture is no picnic to read about, although I am relatively certain that what Verity goes through is a toned-down version of what was actually done to prisoners like her. The climactic scene is disturbingly graphic, but as is true with so much World War II literature, rightfully so.

Read if you liked: Books that emphasize female friendship (Sarah Dessen’s books, although this is a vastly different time period!) and/or kick-butt girl stories (Graceling or Grave Mercy, maybe?) or aviation-themed stuff. Some sites recommend Flygirl if you liked this one, and although I haven’t read it, it looks like it might have some of the same themes. Wikipedia’s article on the Air Transport Auxiliary recommends several titles that are also about the ATA.

Not good for: If you’re not into historical fiction, you’ll really struggle with this one. It’s also not particularly happy, although Verity’s narrative is really humorous at some parts.

What my students think: I haven’t had anyone pick this one up yet, and I’m doubtful it will be a huge hit except to those who really like historical fiction.

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One thought on “Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

  1. Pingback: Code Name Verity | cooking with the book club

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