Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Release Date: February 6, 2012
Publisher: Egmont Press
I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.
That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.
He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.
We are a sensational team.(courtesy of Goodreads)
Code Name Verity is a deceptive book. It presents itself as just another World War II story at the beginning, but it slowly transforms into a heart-wrenching punch to the stomach that you'll never forget. It's the kind of book you'll want to re-read to catch all the details, but you also won't need to because the story will be permanently etched in your mind.
The book is not easy to get into. It's not exactly a bumpy start, because the road is clear and straight, but the reader can't see that until later on in the story. Code Name Verity is told in two parts. The first part is told by Verity (a code name for our protagonist). She's been captured by the Gestapo and is collaborating with them. But she doesn't just write down her secrets at once. Rather, it's a story that goes back to the creation of a friendship between an ambitious yet poor girl who wishes to be a pilot and a wealthy, snooty girl who works in codes. Our narrator is the snooty girl and Maddie is pilot. We soon learn that there is much more to these characters than Verity initially reveals. (We do learn Verity, aka Queenie's, real name, but I'll let you discover it).
Verity's story feels stand-offish at first. Not only does she ramble about things that seem to have no relevance, but she's made Maddie the central character of her "confession" and refers to herself in the third person. But be patient. Every word is important to the plot and Verity's demeanor in her writing is just as relevant as the substance. I admire Ms. Wein for daring to present the reader with such a difficult beginning. For trusting us to appreciate the subtleties.
Just when you're most invested in Verity's story and terrified for her future, the narrative switches to Maddie. Her story is told in a standard first person, current events tense. She is hiding in France and desperate to perform her mission as well as save Verity. And that's all the plot details you'll get from me. Any more would ruin the story.
I love both Verity and Maddie. We see Verity at her most desperate - scared and angry. Yet she has a subtle dignity, a witty sense of humor, and calculating nature. Maddie in some ways comes off as a stereotypical girl - hesitant and fearful. But she also is incredibly brave, ambitious, and full of brute determinism. Maddie is the girl that I would be friends with. Verity is the girl I would look up to.
There are a few side characters in the story, but the one who sticks with me most is Von Linden. He is the Gestapo officer who interrogates Verity. He is a gray figure. He subjects Verity and her fellow prisoners to unimaginable torture. Yet he is a father, an intellectual, and appreciates Verity's writing as much for the story itself as for her secrets. It's as if Von Linden is at war with the monster inside himself. The monster is winning, but the man beneath peeks out. It was nice to see the "enemy" presented as a human being - not in a way that makes you forgive his crimes but in a way that makes you realize that people not that different from you and me are capable of horrible things.
Verity's story is the most significant part of the book, but Maddie's story moves faster. Their tales merge unforgettably. I finished the story crying bittersweet tears, but with the excited buzz that I only get from books that wrap themselves together completely, surprisingly, and subtly.
You must read Code Name Verity if (1) you love historical fiction; (2) you love full-fledged main and side characters; (3) if you like to cry; (4) if you like books that start out as a scattered 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle but come together to present an amazing picture.