Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein’s Telemakos series is one I was planning to read eventually, given that it has been compared to Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series (Chachic calls it “Gen in Africa”). The Sunbird has been waiting on my TBR pile for a few months now. When a publicist from Egmont contacted me about Code Name Verity, I wasn’t sure about a story that is a WWII drama about two girls, one caught by the Gestapo. I was worried because I’ve read some books lately that wrung me out. Well, I was an emotional wreck after this one, but I still recommend it highly.
The Premise: During World War II, a girl has been captured by the Gestapo in Nazi occupied France. Her papers say she’s Maddie, but she maintains that that is not her name. This young mystery woman is given pen and paper and a deal. For her clothes, she will confess wireless codes, and then the “Location of British Airfields for Invasion of Europe”. She begins to write, and as she writes, she tells the story of who she is and how she came to be in her cell, and of her best friend Maddie, the pilot who brought her to France before crashing and perhaps dying with her plane.
My Thoughts: This is a story where the less I say the better, so this is going to be a very short review (by my standards), and a review with very little detail about what is going on in the story.
What I can tell say is what I said in the premise – a captured young woman has to write out some information for the Nazis and her confession is what we’re reading. Of course, as a reader, I’m very concerned about this girl. She explains that she’s a coward and that’s why she’s going to tell the Nazi’s everything, if only to buy a few more days of relative comfort before her death.  While she says she’s not Maddie, she sure knows how to tell Maddie’s story and how Maddie became a pilot. She gives so much detail that I wonder if she is in fact Maddie.
This is a YA book, so the depictions of violence are somewhat tame, but we know that there are other prisoners tortured nearby and her captors have threatened to use kerosene and light her on fire (amongst other things). Under those conditions, would she tell the truth? Is she giving away only unimportant information? Or is everything she’s saying a blatant lie?
Code Name Verity answers those questions eventually, but along the way it paints a grim picture of a desperate young woman surrounded by unfriendly faces. She escapes through her retelling of a happier past. There are a lot of details here about Maddie, a young girl finding ways to gain flight experience, and how Maddie’s circumstance leads her to the elegant enigma writing the story. This is a story about their bravery, and the strong friendship that develops between them.
People, bring tissues. By the end of this book you will cry. I almost made it without a tear, but I couldn’t get past the last page without falling to pieces. The only reason I didn’t cry before that was because I was reading in public
(there is a wrecking ball of a scene before the end and I had a verklempt moment). Later, as I was recounting the story, I couldn’t do it without a catch in my voice. Despite the tears, I didn’t feel depressed by Code Name Verity. I was just so moved. This is a book about war, but it focuses on individuals – two girls fighting for their country and all that happens because of it. Their personal accounts make the emotional impact of Code Name Verity huge. Sigh, that human spirit. I had my little quibbles with the story, but by the end, that emotional punch knocked me off my feet. I can’t recommend this enough.

The sun still sets quite late in the north of England in August, and Maddie on fabric wings flew low over the long sands of Holy Island and saw seals gathered there, and the great castle crags of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh to the north and south, and the ruins of the twelfth century priory where the glowing gospels were painted, and all the fields stretching yellow and green toward the low Cheviot Hills of Scotland. Maddie flew back following the 70-mile 2000-year-old dragon’s back of Hadrian’s Wall, to Carlisle and then south through the Lakeland fells, along Lake Windermere. The soaring mountains rose around her and the poet’s waters glittered beneath her in the valleys of memory — hosts of golden daffodils, Swallows and Amazons, Peter Rabbit. She came home by way of Blackstone Edge above the old Roman road to avoid the smoke haze over Manchester, and landed back at Oakway sobbing with anguish and love; love, for her island home that she’d seen whole and fragile from the air in the space of an afternoon, from coast to coast, holding its breath in a glass lens of summer and sunlight. All about to be swallowed in nights of flame and blackout. Maddie landed at Oakway before sunset and shut down the engine, then sat in the cockpit weeping.
More than anything else, I think, Maddie went to war on behalf of the Holy Island seals.

Overall: Blown away. I knew that this was set in the war and that the story begins with a girl writing out information for the Nazis, but as I read what she has to say, I got caught up in her past and her personality. When we got back to the present timeline, the emotional impact snuck up on me and laid me to waste. I was a jumble of conflicting feelings at the end of the book, but the last lingering one was good and cathartic. I feel so proud of these characters somehow.
Code Name Verity is out now in the U.K., but won’t be out till May 15th in the U.S.
Buy (US edition): Amazon | Powell’s (UK edition): The Book Depository
Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – 10 (Perfect)
Chachic’s Book Nook – “
the best book that I’ve read so far in 2012″

Book Trailer:

19 thoughts on “Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

  1. “Despite the tears, I didn’t feel depressed by Code Name Verity. I was moved.”=>

    SOLD. I’m off to Book Depository because I can’t wait. Thanks for the non spoilery review.

    • I got a comment from Memory on LJ about this. She said, “It sounds like the sort of book that would utterly destroy me in the best possible way” — THAT was what I was trying to say. Destroyed in the best possible way.

  2. I cannot WAIT for this to come out in North America in May. I have this weird thing where I absolutely love books that make me cry (without being exploitative or sad For The Sake of Being Sad, which don’t usually make me cry anyway) — there’s something so cathartic about it, and I know when a book can make me FEEL so much it’s because it’s a winner for me. I’m tempted to order it off The Book Depository, but I have so many other books in the TBR and a lot of school work on my plate (only two more weeks of class for me) that I think I should just wait it out.

  3. Chachic tweeted me about this book! I usually shy away from tear-jerkers because I have the tendency of having those books HAUNT me for days (a book I read a few weeks ago for school made me an emotional mess for a while; I kept breaking out in tears at the thought of the two MCs, lol) but I might have to break my own rule for this book…it sounds too good to pass up (and that trailer is amazing).

    • What was the book you read for school that made you a mess? I’m curious now!

      Yeah, this is going to perhaps make you a mess. OK, it probably will. But I still recommend it!

      • I had to read Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman. I didn’t think it’d get to me but I was bawling when it was over. It’s very bittersweet.

        Lol, I’ll have to look out for it once it’s in stores.

  4. Oh Janice, I am so glad that you loved this one! I felt exactly the same way you did – laid to waste in the best possible way. It’s a lovely novel about a beautiful friendship, makes me want to push my girlfriends to read it but sadly, not all of them are readers. It’s the kind of book that would make you hug it to yourself after you finish reading it. Are you planning to order the UK edition? That’s what I did because I love the cover for that. More importantly, are you planning to read the rest of EWein’s novels? 🙂

    • Haha, you are sly. Yeah, that copy of THE SUNBIRD is on the shelf, looking at me right now. I willlll.

      I loved the friendship too. This was such a wonderful “girl power” book around. Girls doing stuff, meeting other girls who can do stuff, and do it WELL. The kind of book I’d shove in the hands of a daughter if I had one. Ah, I could go on about this book!

      • Telemakos is waiting for you! He wants to meet you. 😛 Seriously though, I’m curious what you’ll think of her other books (also hoping that you’ll love them).

        Yep, it really is a girl power book. And I love that it’s about girls who do things without having to be physically strong, you know? I mean I love physically strong heroines but it’s great when they can show their strength in other ways.

        • Alright. It’s going to the top of the pile. I have one book I have to read by April 17th and one book I’m reading now, but this will go between them.

          Oo, good point that it’s girls being strong without it being about physical strength.

  5. This is the book that I’m most looking forward to reading this spring. I’ve had my hands on it for some time, but the moment just hasn’t felt right. It’s hard to pick up that book that you know you will love, but you also know it will wreck you. I WILL read it before it releases though! I’ve been so appreciative of all of the reviews that have spoken so highly of this book without revealing much about the story. I love knowing that a book will be good because of the people who have recommended it, but not knowing what to expect entirely.

    • Yes, this is one that I was happy NOT to know what was going to happen or what exactly was happening and found out as I kept reading. And I’m glad that I had an eBook and didn’t flip ahead.

      It’s totally a book I look forward to more people reading so we can all go ON about it without spoiling each other. Maybe at BEA there will be a CODE NAME VERITY support group that huddles in a dark corner somewhere.

  6. I am REALLY looking forward to this book. I check my library catalogue almost compulsively to see if it is on the catalogue yet. I might just need to buy it and be done with it!

      • We do have ILL and I use it frequently, but it doesn’t seem to be on any of the other catalogues either. Might just not be out here yet.

        • Fishpondworld seems to have it, so maybe it IS out in Australia? Hmm, it’s very difficult to figure out that information. I hope you get your hands on a copy eventually.

  7. Pingback: Code Name Verity Elizabeth Wein Book Review

  8. Pingback: Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein « Bunbury in the Stacks

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