stephanie's Reviews > Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
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's review
Apr 04, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2012, absolutely-must-read, good-more-than-once, historical-fiction, would-rec, wwii, young-adult, desert-island-books
Read on April 04, 2012


This book is quite simply utterly brilliant, and that is before I read the Author's Notes where she mentioned she consulted with the Imperial War Museum (quite is my favorite museum in the entire world).

(a quick ETA: yes, I am a student of history, but not military history, and as such, do not care much about planes. But if you think this is about planes, you aren't reading the same book I am. Or, at least, you won't be if you keep reading. Trust me. I saw someone say this reminded them of how Jellicoe Road started, and I can see that, but it took me way longer to care about Taylor Markham than it did for me to care about Maddie and Queenie, and considering my love for everything Marchetta, that is saying a lot.)

It starts out with a simple premise - a pilot and a spy in WWII. The plane carrying the spy is shot down in German occupied France, and the pilot and spy are split. They are best friends through happenstance, thrown together by a war that didn't do much right except unite people that never would have meet, often underneath an umbrella in a bomb shelter.

Right there, my attention was caught, and the lovely people at Disney-Hyperion and netgalley allowed me to read this early, and I am so thrilled. I pre-ordered a copy for my library and also for my personal library and one to force into people's hands. This is, frankly, my favorite stand-alone novel of the year (and has already climbed into my top 10 books of all time).

This is my time-period, historically (academically). My degree is in French history, so I went in with a little skeptisim. Those that know me well know that a movie or book can be ruined for me with one small historical detail out of place for no apparent reason, and I am happy to report that everything changed or made up is theoretically possible, and while it might not be completely accurate, the facts are strong enough that you can walk away from this book knowing things and not being wrong.

Here's the thing. At the end of this book, I wanted to laugh, cry, curl up in a ball, thrust it in the hands of everyone I know and keep it tucked away somewhere special just for me. My eyes were tearing, but because I was filled with both joy and sadness, and that unfailing sense that despite the horrors, somehow, humanity keeps on.

I don't want to spoil anything, because the telling is a mystery in and of itself. The surface plot is deceptively simple - Person A meets Person B in a situation that only wartime could bring about. Then Person A becomes a pilot, and Person B becomes a spy. They don't see each other much because of the war and their jobs don't overlap. Until they do. The story is told the first person, but with a narrator that redefines "unreliable". And just when you realize that you are halfway through the book (because you haven't been able to put it down for one second), you stop for a second and wonder what the heck can happen for the whole rest of the book? And you wonder if maybe the end will ruin everything.

You would be wrong. Maddie and Queenie are not just alive, they are real. They exist so easily, so perfectly - I am not a visual reader (in that I don't "cast" characters or see what I'm reading as a movie, or even picture characters in my head, etc.) - but I know exactly what Maddie and Queenie and Engel and von Hauf look like. The historical accuracy brings even more of a sense of being there, which is incredible because the town doesn't actually exist. It is the work of a brilliant researcher and world builder, someone who is dedicated to the past but knows it must be recreated - faithfully, but also with a writer's sense. The words are poetry. The line breaks, the code, the way things are carefully spread out so you don't even notice this hasn't all been circumstance until you step on the inevitable land mine. I am sure in print it will be even more effective. The writing is so strong, the voices so clear and alive and real, the descriptions so spot on and all the detail so carefully rendered but done so brilliantly. There are no seams in this book, the writing has sewn the story up so beautifully.

I left this book desperately sad that it was ending. And then! Then the utterly brilliant Author's Note at the end, the note that completely and wholly sold me on my love for Elizabeth Wein, the note that talked about writing historical fiction and the need for accuracy but also the need for creative license, the note that I wish every historical fiction book carried, the note that admitted what the book could and couldn't do.

What this book can do is take your breath away. It can make you laugh, it can make you root for things you never thought possible. It will bring the reality of life in occupied France to you in a way you won't be able to describe, the things you forget but remember later, like the fact that a Resistance family has a son who is an ardant Nazi, and they can't help loving him. That love is spelled differently when you write it down, but when you say it, it all boils down to, "Kiss me, Hardy," and that love can create hope, can create purpose, and create meaning, and therefore love is something that can be concrete. You will have parts of your carefully constructed world turned upside down. You will turn pages and lose track of time. You will worry, you will wonder when it ends, you will assume there will tragedy, or something spectacular, you won't be able to see a way out.

Despite all these things, the book will continue. And that is the legacy of the Resistance, of all Resisters during all the wars, of those that fought this particular war in so many different ways - from being pilots to having a car, to shooting guards to breeding roses - that despite all those things, despite not seeing a way out, they did not give up. They continued on.

It could have been any war. It was a friendship that never would have existed otherwise. It could have been about cars, or horses, instead of planes. The friendship, the love, and the telling - the persistence of life - these are universal, and these are what the book holds dear.

I will carry "Code Name Verity" with me. Lest we forget, indeed.
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Quotes stephanie Liked

Elizabeth Wein
“It's like being in love, discovering your best friend.”
Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

Comments (showing 1-3)

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Holly I love the Imperial War Museum! I'm lucky to have visited it several times. Another reason to get to CNV ASAP - I already have a copy waiting on the shelf for me. :)

stephanie Holly wrote: "I love the Imperial War Museum! I'm lucky to have visited it several times. Another reason to get to CNV ASAP - I already have a copy waiting on the shelf for me. :)"

have you read it yet?! my print copies came today, and i can't stop petting it. hah.

message 1: by Kerry (new) - added it

Kerry Connelly woahhhh Stephanie what a review! I just happened to stumble upon this and now from your goes in my 'buy asap pile' :) will tell you what i think when i read :)

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