Kara's Reviews > Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
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May 21, 12


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Code Name Verity tells the story of Verity and Maddie, two women who find themselves at the centre of the British war effort during World War Two. Verity and Maddie couldn't be more different: Verity comes from a family that's "established in the upper echelons of the aristocracy", whereas Maddie is the "granddaughter of an immigrant tradesman". Despite their differing backgrounds, however, Verity and Maddie become fast friends, forming an unlikely friendship in a dangerous time.

Told in two parts, Code Name Verity begins with the words "I am a coward." The first sentence of Code Name Verity is to the point and without flourish, but it's one that managed to pull me in so quickly and so deeply that I didn't come up for air until I had devoured the entire story, cover to cover (even the author's notes at the end!). These telling words belong to Verity, a Special Operations Executions spy who has been captured by the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied France. Verity is being detained in the Château de Bordeaux, a once-fancy hotel that has been repurposed into a prison, where questionable interrogation tactics are employed and unspeakable acts of torture occur. Verity, who has been on the receiving end of these unspeakable acts, writes these four words because she has agreed to provide the enemy with a detailed account of the British war effort in exchange for a stay of her execution. Though Verity faces certain death whether she cooperates or not, every piece of information she confesses to the enemy equals a little more time to live, and as long as she collaborates, she is spared from torture. Using whatever paper is available - hotel stationary, a prescription pad, recipe cards, sheet music - Verity writes her "Great Dissertation of Treason", but weaved in the narrative, amongst the disclosure of the location of British airfields and the types of aircrafts in operational use, is the story of the friendship between Verity and Maddie.

Code Name Verity is like nothing I've read before, which given the oversaturated genre of YA fiction is an impressive feat. Indeed, Code Name Verity is a unique story in that it features a female pilot and a female spy, both nontraditional and lesser known roles of women in the Second World War. I'm not sure if I missed the pertinent lesson in history class, but before this novel my perception of the role of women in WWII was limited to women in more traditional roles, like working in factories and sewing aircraft upholstery. Now, thanks to Code Name Verity, not only do I have an image of a woman contributing to the war efforts from behind the scenes, but I also have an image of a woman piloting a Lysander or a Puss Moth, like Maddie, or operating as a spy in Nazi-occupied France, like Verity.

I was fascinated by these unconventional roles, but in focusing on Maddie's role as a pilot Wein provides a lot of information on aviation and aircraft types, which seemed a bit dense at times. Admittedly, I did get bogged down a bit in certain parts when I was bombarded by aviation information, but aviation is a subject matter that is foreign to me and may be a great deal more interesting to someone who either has experience with flying or at least an interest in it.

One thing I did absolutely love was the literary references that are sprinkled in throughout the story. I especially loved the numerous Peter Pan references. For example, Wein writes: "Mother keeps the windows open in all our bedrooms while we're gone, like Mrs. Darling, just in case we come flying home when she's not expecting us." Or: "Von Linden resembles Captain Hook in that he is rather an upright sort of gentleman in spite of his being a brute, and I am quite Pan-like in my naive confidence that he will play by the rules and keep his word." Whether intentional or not, the juxtaposition of J.M. Barrie's story and the story of Verity and Maddie is delightfully clever. Peter Pan and his lost boys never grow up, but in Code Name Verity, Verity and Maddie (and all the other young soldiers who are sent to fight in the war) are forced to grow up before their time.

As for the characters of Verity and Maddie, I adored them both. I admired Verity's grit, her resolve, her humour, her defiance, and I loved Maddie's strength, her selflessness, her determination, her love of flying. But, above all else, I loved their friendship. Somehow, amidst the bombs and explosions, the blackouts and darkness, and the shortages and ration cards, Verity and Maddie formed an unbreakable bond, and that's really what this story is about, after all. It's not about the planes, or a love interest, or even the war. In the end, it's a "jolly girls' adventure story".

"I am a coward." Though it was these simple words that captured my attention from the onset, it was the friendship between Verity and Maddie that grabbed ahold of me throughout Code Name Verity, and I don't expect to be released from its grasp for quite some time still.
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