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:

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