Sunday, June 10, 2012

Code Name: Verity

Hola Blog Friends! My apologies for the long blog silence and happy belated birthday to Bookmate Elizabeth. Her existence proves that, like fine wine, some things just get better with age. (I am older than her and have, to my horror, not found the same to hold true about myself.)

However, I did not emerge from my Sith cave of silence just to say hello. I was compelled to return because I have just read the best YA book of the year. I know it's only June, but I honestly can't imagine anything matching the fantastic and devastating splendor of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. It's up there with Jellicoe Road, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and Graceling as one of my favorite books of all time. And it's a heartbreaker.

Verity is set during World War II. Our narrator, whose name is one of the book's many mysteries, has been captured in Nazi-occupied France. She's being interrogated, painfully. And she's talking. Or at least writing. Her captors have provided pen and paper for her to provide all the details she can on war-torn Britain. Verity chooses to do so by telling the story of her friendship with pilot Maddie Brodatt.

Maddie and Verity are unlikely friends, their upbringings on the opposite scales of the British class system. But they meet under duress and the upheaval of the war allows them to see the kindred spirit in each other. The war also disrupts the firm lines keeping women in traditional roles and they both pursue callings that in different times would have been impossible - Maddie as a pilot and Verity first as a wireless officer and then with the Special Operations Executive. 

Verity's narrative, despite its stark beginning where she castigates herself as a coward for breaking under torture, draws you in. It's easy to forget during the long stretches set in Britain that, like Scheherazade, she's spinning these tales to keep herself alive at least for a few more days. Her wit, bravery, and joie de vivre, except when she's thinking about the information she's given up during torture and what it means to the war effort, make reading about her and Maddie's adventures together a pleasure. And her gallows humor, constitutional inability to avoid needling her captors, and quick wits make anything seem possible.

Writing anything more about the twist and turns of Code Name Verity seems unfair to readers, as discovering it for the first time is one of those reading experiences that don't come along often. I'd recommend giving yourself a long stretch of time to read it in one go and to prepare yourself for emotional devastation. Each of the characters, even the villains, are so well-drawn and human that when the fortunes of war visit them, you feel each loss like a physical blow. Despite the novel's narrow focus on a few characters in a small area of a huge canvas, it humanizes the horror of war with a visceral fierceness that leaves you completely wrung out.

I know that's on the face of things, that's not not the most appealing of recommendations. But a book that conveys such emotional impact in so few pages is one that I will press upon passersby until I'm blue in the face. Consider yourselves warned.


  1. Kerry, you are like fine champagne, my friend! I just put this book on hold at the library. It looks amazing!

  2. I'm honestly not sure why I picked this book to review. The book description caught my eye. It's about World War 2, one of my favorite historic time periods about which to read. It is published by Disney/Hyperion Press and marketed as a young adult book. I'm always looking for good reads to pass on to my middle schoolers. But, when I began my reading, I was close to admitting I had made a mistake. Thinking I wasn't going to like the book made me a little sorry that I had chosen it. I don't ever want my bias to cause me to give a bad review. But, I just wasn't feeling it.

  3. Belgie, I'm sorry it wasn't to your taste. Did you end up finishing it after all? I've heard the same from another trusted reader friend, so it might not be to everyone's taste, but it was certainly to mine.