6.24.2013

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, 337 pp, RL: TEEN




I never thought I would read a YA novel that was as compelling, harrowing, and memorable as Ruta Sepetys's Between Shades of Gray, the story of a family sent to a gulag near the Arctic Circle during Stalin's purge of Lithuania. However, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, while cut from a different cloth, matches Sepetys's superlative novel. Marjorie Ingall's 2012 New York Times Book Review of Code Name Verity begins in the exact same place I find myself - a predicament. I want to tell you everything about this amazing, breathtaking (literally - I held my breath at several points over the course of this novel) story of two best friends during World War II. I don't even want to tell you their names because they each have more than one and part of the thrill is discovering - actually realizing - who is telling the story as it unfolds. In her review Ingalls says that Code Name Verity is a, 

fiendishly plotted mind game of a novel, the kind you have to read twice. The first time you just devour the story of girl-pilot-and-girl-spy friendship and the thrill of flying a plane and the horrors of Nazi torture and the bravery of French Resistance fighters and you force yourself to slow down, but you don’t want to, because you’re terrified these beautiful, vibrant characters are doomed. The second time, you read more slowly, proving to yourself that yes, the clues were there all along for you to solve the giant puzzle you weren’t even aware was constructed around you, and it takes focus and attention to catch all the little references to the fact that nothing is what you thought. Especially while you’re bawling your eyes out.

Really, Ingalls's review is far superior to anything I could write here, in part because I am still too shaken by the story itself and the brilliance of Wein's writing and her mastery of story telling to coherently write about it. On top of that, I still find myself pausing in wonder at the fact that this story, this story of a pilot and a spy during WWII, has two teenaged girls as narrators! While their exact ages are never stated, we do know that one of the characters was forced to leave boarding school in Switzerland because of the war, beginning her studies at Oxford a year early. I began listening to Code Name Verity, which is stunningly narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell, choosing to know nothing more about it than the fact that it had two narrators and won the Printz Honor award this year, which is the Newbery for YA books. The winner, In Darkness by Nick Lake, is set in Haiti in January 2010, just days after the devastating earthquake and sounds even more intensely harrowing than Code Name Verity. "Part 1: Verity," begins with a weary but verbose narrator who's first words are, "I AM A COWARD." She goes on to detail every act of cowardice that has bought her shreds of warmth, helping her survive being a prisoner of war, held by the Gestapo in Ormaie, France. The narrator is writing out everything she knows, everything that happened, going back before the first time she met Maddie, the pilot who secretly ferried her into France and crash landed the plane, the narrator parachuting out without knowing her fate. The narrator is writing, divulging as many British secrets to her captors as she can, to extend her life. She begins writing on luxurious hotel stationary - her prison was once a hotel - eventually finding herself writing on recipe cards, a prescription pad that belonged to a Jewish doctor and sheet music that belonged to a Jewish flutist, telling the story of her friendship with Maddie, saying, "It's like being in love, discovering your best friend." Wein does so much in Code Name Verity to establish this profound friendship between two very different girls from different stations who would have never even crossed paths if it were not for the war, adding another layer to this already complex tale.

There is a considerable amount of page time devoted to every aspect of flight and Wein, who is herself a pilot, makes it interesting in the voices of Verity and Maddie. Wein recreated this time and place so specifically and densely, heightening the intensity of the plot. While Ingalls found some of these details over the top, I found them completely engrossing, putting me even more deeply into the world Wein (re)created. In fact, Wein herself did quite a bit of research for this novel. Referring to is as "part obsession, part procrastination," Wein shares the fruit of her research (mostly knitted items) on her blog under the label Vintage Verity, where you can see a replica of Verity's sweater, which has a pretty significant role in the plot. Ingall's also says that she thinks that Code Name Verity will appeal more to adults than teen readers because of the rich details and an original cover (second from the left, below) that makes the book look like a "lesbian version of Fifty Shades of Grey." While I have to confess that the original cover was off-putting enough to me that I didn't even bother to read past the flap when I shelved it last year, the Printz award and a glimpse at the first lines of Ingall's review was enough to get me to buy the audio and then the paperback copy. This is the kind of book that you BEG people to read so that you have someone to talk about it with. This is also the kind of book that you BEG people to read so that you can watch them gasp as the story unfolds. My mom, husband, daughter (junior in college) and non-fiction loving son (sophomore in high school) are going to be reading this book over the summer and I'll report back here with their thoughts!





Rose Under Fire, a companion novel to Code Name Verity, continues to explore the themes of "friendship and loyalty, right and wrong, and unwavering bravery in the face of indescribable evil." It will be released in the US in September, 2013. The first cover is the US edition.




Source: Purchased Audio Book and Paperback

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