Fiction, History

Novel: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

January 2, 2013

Wow.  I’ve reviewed a lot of books here over the last four years, and I’ve loved many of them, but this may be my favorite yet.  Code Name Verity (2012) by Elizabeth Wein is an utterly enthralling young adult novel about friendship during World War II.  It’s brilliant.

Drawing heavily from historical material, Code Name Verity takes place in England and France at the height of the war.  It begins in a French Gestapo headquarters, where Verity — a spirited young woman working for the Special Operations Executive — is being interrogated and tortured at the hands of the Nazis.  Cooperating, Verity begins writing down her “confession” — which, for all the information she reveals, is also a cathartic narrative explaining her wartime friendship with another young woman, Maddie Brodatt.  Maddie is a pilot for the British war effort, a whiz with all things mechanical who loves to fly.  The extreme circumstances of war pushed the two of them together, and led them unexpectedly into secret work for the Allies — Verity as an inventive interrogator and spy, Maddie as a pilot ferrying operatives to secret locations.  As Verity’s confession unfolds, so does the story of the women’s unlikely friendship: how they came together despite class differences, how the war drastically changed them, and how their final operation went disastrously wrong.

Obviously the subject matter is right up my alley, what with the novel’s World War II setting, historical detail, and spy intrigue.  But I’ve read a lot of novels of this nature that didn’t affect me this deeply.  Code Name Verity is epic war fiction, but it’s also a character-driven tale of intense friendship under desperate circumstances, as focused on the personal as it is on the wider circumstances of the war.  It’s an unusual combination, driven by a very strong narrative voice, and while at first I found it a bit tough to swallow that the entire story was being told in an epistolary format, I ultimately fell in love with it.  I also loved seeing aspects of the war infrequently examined in the broader histories:  the many ways in which women contributed to the war effort.  It’s a spellbinding, heartbreaking read, full of adventure, friendship, humor, suspense, and heart.  Highly recommended!

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  • Ian August 26, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    I read this last week, and I have to say it blew my mind. I absolutely adored this book. I’m curious about Rose Under Fire, which apparently is a companion novel to this one.

    • Chris East August 27, 2013 at 12:41 am

      Oh, I’m glad you read this one! It pretty much blew me away, too. I had no idea there was another book — I’ll have to add it to my list!

  • Ian August 28, 2013 at 9:00 am

    My paperback copy of Code Name Verity included an excerpt of what they call a “companion novel”, as opposed to a sequel, I suppose. I skimmed it (I’d rather read the entire thing!) and it appears to take place chronologically after CNV, though, so still sequel-ish.

    The first book was so beautifully written I’ll gladly pick up the companion novel, even though I doubt anything could live up to the tour-de-force of plotting and character voice of the first novel. CNV was so solid that it was hard for me to pick up another book afterwards, knowing anything else would be a letdown by comparison.

    • Jenn Reese September 1, 2013 at 8:56 am

      A lot of people had that problem — not being able to read anything after CNV because nothing could follow it. I think I jumped to graphic novels, which felt like a sufficiently different form of story to avoid comparison.