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!