Oh gosh, I can't believe the time. Is it, yes, it's 12:36 AM and I really should have gone to sleep already but I've...moreOriginally posted on Small Review
Oh gosh, I can't believe the time. Is it, yes, it's 12:36 AM and I really should have gone to sleep already but I've spent the past hour sobbing and trying to read through tears is a little slower than normal reading. But it was so worth it. This book is perfection. Full review to come.
You ARE the wind beneath my wings!
Ten Tissues on the Beaches Scale of Friendship
At first I really wasn't interested in this book. I mean, the bonds of friendship between two women? Where's the swoon in that? But not everything in life has to revolve around romance, and Code Name Verity is a perfect example of a book that does just fine without a swoony lead (though there is a smidge of romance with one of the women and a secondary guy...and it's very nice).
Now we're going to take a detour down my personal memory lane because this is the only way I know how to describe the friendship in Code Name Verity. Bear with me (or skip ahead).
When I was young I had a best friend and we were tight. At one point my mother remarked that we were like Barbara Hershey and Bette Middler in Beaches. I was the quiet Barbara Hershey character, my friend was a loud attention-grabbing singer. And, of course, just like happens in Beaches, I imagined our friendship spanning all of life's essential events like divorce, failed careers, and terminal heart disease (yes, this corresponded perfectly with my Lurlene McDaniel "Dying of cancer is the epitome of romantic" phase).
Little did my mother realize, but with that simple statement she sparked off my obsessive love with Beaches and the accompanying theme song Wind Beneath My Wings. Seriously, obsessed. I still tear up if I hear that song.
So now I judge the strength of all fictional friendships on the Beaches Scale of Friendship (1-10 Tissues with Ten Tissues being a perfect score of heart-breakingly amazing friendship. For another frame of reference, Anne Shirely and Diana Barry score a perfect 10, too).
Code Name Verity is easily a perfect Ten Tissues, which is saying something because I don't give out a perfect 10 lightly (even Harry, Ron, and Hermione, while very high, don't get a perfect 10). Code Name Verity begs the question, "What would YOU do for someone you loved?" and I wonder if I could do what they did.
Remember that sad ending?
I'm issuing the Do Not Read in Public warning
Ok, I admit it, I'm a tad emotional when it comes to reading. I tend to really get into things. And I cry, easily. But I don't think I've cried this much in a long time. Think Plain Kate kind of crying, but more. Think first pet dying kind of crying.
I cried here and there throughout most of the book, but mostly it was the kind of crying where I get a lump in my throat and kind of choke up a little but can pass it off as allergies just acting up a little and honestly I'm totally fine.
But then I pretty much sobbed straight through the final 50 or so pages. And at that point it was WAY past when I should have gone to sleep so I tried to force myself to fall asleep but instead I ended up crying for about another hour. And then I cried the next day. And then the day after that. Whenever I thought about everything that had happened, particularly THAT SCENE, I just lost it.
So there you go. You've been warned.
It's NOT a kissing book?!
Wait, I don't know if I like this genre
I'm a big historical fiction fan, but usually I don't like reading books set during WWII because they usually focus on one of two things: Hiding Jewish people in attics or women doing really anachronistic stuff (more on THAT later). The first subject is ok, but I think I pretty much got my fill of that in grade school.
Plus there was also the whole lack of romance factor and I was afraid I wouldn't like Verity because the blurb made it sound like she was a rotten traitor. So I wasn't really sure if Code Name Verity was for me.
But forget all that. Code Name Verity is genre transcending. It's like Lolita where, even though the subject matter is a guy who lusts after a little girl, you don't actually have to be into that to appreciate the book. Not that there's pedophilia in Code Name Verity (there isn't), it's just that, this isn't the kind of book where you can look at the blurb and decide whether or not the genre is for you.
Instead, you need to ask yourself if you like books that are powerful, heart-wrenching, and memorable. Books that creep up on you and before you know it they're a part of you. Books that make you feel and books that make you want to drop everything and make sure all your loved ones know how much you care for them. Books with impact. Books that go beyond.
I'm also issuing the Nabokovian Puzzle Prize
The whole first half of the book is written in code! And it's not a super obvious code either (but you can figure out most of it, and no, it's not quite Nabokov, but who is?).
There are red herrings galore and a ton of things are said but they actually mean something different. It was so much fun puzzling through all these bits and trying to discern Verity's true messages amid all of her storytelling and false leads.
There was also one bit that was major foreshadowing and as soon as I remembered it (right before THAT scene), my stomach dropped to the floor because I suddenly knew what was about to happen. That made it about a million times worse and heart breaking (and by worse, I mean awesome storytelling).
After Bilbo has his five hour long birthday, they go on a quest!
Give it time for the slow burn
This is a slow burn book, but the burn is a little hard to see at first. I can see how the beginning might turn readers off because it is slower and the point of it all isn't really clear for a while.
BUT, don't give up. Stick with it and I PROMISE it will all make sense. And once you get to THAT scene, well, you'll see.
Looks will only get you so far, Russell
But is it historically accurate?
I mentioned earlier that I really dislike it when authors put women in historically inaccurate roles, and with a female pilot as one of the main leads and a female spy as the other, I was really worried Elizabeth Wein was going to disappoint me.
But she didn't! She did her research (down to ball point pens!) and thankfully my eye never had to twitch.
Not only are the characters grounded in realistic roles, but I also appreciated that she focused on slightly different things than every other WWII book under the sun. Now, I'll issue another warning here, but really, if you're reading WWII books and if you saw my previous warning about not reading this book in public, well, you should pretty much expect disturbing stuff.
Because WWII? VERY disturbing. Elizabeth Wein doesn't even focus on the more usual WWII disturbing fare like starvation and battle that, as horrifying as they are, have lost a bit of sting due to the fact that we've been so exposed to them. Oh no, she brings the spotlight onto atrocities like torture, Nacht und Nebel and hints at the "scientific experimentation" crimes committed by Mengele and others.
I am absolutely in love with this book! It is firmly on my Special Shelf and as soon as I finished I added more of Elizabeth Wein's books to my TBR, because I need more. I'm such a character girl, and Elizabeth Wein totally delivers when it comes to crafting so-vivid-they-could-be-real characters.
Code Name Verity is also one of those YA books that can easily be read by adults (they may not even realize it's YA). I've already ordered a copy for my library with a particular adult patron in mind, and there's a waiting list of both YA and adult patrons after her (I gush even more about the books I love at work than I do on here, if you can believe it).
Because this is the kind of book I can't help but gush about. I want to buy a million copies and give them to everyone I know. I also made sure my mother and sister both added Code Name Verity to their lists and you'd better believe I'll be book pushering this one on all of you, too.
And why was my review so vague? Because you need to experience this book as it unfolds.
The beginning of this book is so slow. Not much happens, and I'm very impatient. It's...moreOriginally posted on Small Review blog.
Why I considered DNF-ing
The beginning of this book is so slow. Not much happens, and I'm very impatient. It's all written with a bunch of old-timey words thrown in and while this definitely did help establish the historical backdrop, sometimes I had absolutely no clue what was being said.
The book opens with Cecily's first person POV, and she is a complete brat. She's always thinking something awful about the people around her, she pouts, throws fits, and seriously needs someone to shove her off her high horse. She isn't even nice to her father (though, to be fair, he isn't all that great himself).
Then, without warning, the narrative switched in the next chapter to Gwinny's POV. And she's worse than Cecily! Her sentences are fragmented and weird. I imagine this is to reflect her lack of fluency in English? (She's Welsh). Or maybe not? I'm not sure, but it turned me off because it made her sound dumb. Her barely contained RAGE made it very uncomfortable being in her head.
So why didn't I DNF?
Despite all that, I found myself sucked into the book. I hesitate to say "story," because this isn't the kind of book where there is a neat plot-problem-resolution. Usually I prefer clearly structured books over the looser "slice of life" approach of The Wicked and the Just, but J. Anderson Coats' writing was so vivid that I was completely absorbed in even the mundane day-to-day events.
Little things like how parents related to their children, the social structures, clothing, chores, laws, and on and on were all described in great detail. There was a flood of information, but it never once felt like a lesson. There weren't long lectures about any of this stuff. Instead, J. Anderson Coats really throws the reader into the middle of life back then and expects you to sink or swim.
I imagine non-historical fiction fans might be bored stiff, but I was entranced. The Wicked and the Just is everything I hope for when reading historical fiction. This really is a gem of a book for fans of Historical fiction with a capital H.
I learned a ton of things about the late 1200s and the relations between the recently conquered Welsh and the conquering English. Events are seen from both sides through the contrasting narrators, and in the end I can sympathize equally with the Welsh and the English.
Also, those characters I didn't like at first?
They grew on me. I can't say that I like them in that "I want to be friends" kind of way (though Cecily is definitely sitting at my lunch table so we can have a wicked gossip session), but I respect, sympathize, and care very much about them. They truly came alive off the page and I cheered along with their triumphs while their sorrows stabbed me in the gut.
Gwinny's narrative did smooth out as the book went on, and though it was never entirely "normal," I didn't have any trouble connecting with her. I liked seeing her dance around a maybe-friendship-maybe-not with Cecily and the love she had for her brother was achingly bittersweet.
Cecily's chapters remained my favorites. I loved being in her awful little head and she made me laugh out loud a number of times at the brilliantly hilarious thoughts she related. She may not be nice, but she is brutally honest and I always find that refreshing in a character. She also has a strict sense of justice that I appreciated immensely.
What about the body count?
One of the big things that grabbed my attention was the promise of a body count. Is it just me, or does the prospect of a body count instantly make things more interesting? I interpreted that to mean there would be a killer on the loose and there would be some sort of mystery to solve. I'm not really sure where I got that idea from, and really it couldn't be further from the truth.
There IS a body count, and it is gruesomely high, but it has nothing to do with any serial killings or mysteries. Even though I was disappointed I didn't get a murder mystery, that disappointment was soon forgotten because what did happen made my jaw drop to the ground in shock. Which is definitely a good thing.
But you're going to have to wait until after page 300 for the explosions of death to start. (Not literal explosions.) Oh, and a warning to animal lovers: (view spoiler)[a dog dies (hide spoiler)].
A note on that title
Aside from taking a look at an event in history, I wondered what the point of this book really was. If you want to get really analytical, then there's a ton of fodder here in the form of explorations of relationships, social class, war, subjugation, and so on.
But at its root, I think the title really sums it up perfectly: this book is about justice and the wickedness in life that warrants it.
I really liked how this theme was integrated throughout the book. It gave the whole story a spine of steel and made me give out major respect points to various characters. It also helped highlight how harsh the times were and how horrible people can be to one another.
I can't wait to read another book by J. Anderson Coats! The Wicked and the Just is a standalone (though there could easily be a sequel, and I would so read that!), but I'm crossing my fingers she writes another book soon, preferably another historical fiction. This is a book worth noting.
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