Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun. When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.

Hyperion

Find it at WCPL here.

Advertisements

5 Comments

  1. I love this book. I love love love it. The diction is gorgeous, it toes the perfect line between being personal and narrative – it communicates the narrator’s personality, emotions, opinions, and humour while at the same time engagingly narrating the plot.

    There are three narrative concepts intertwined – the narrator’s digressions into her own opinions, which are relevant and funny and wonderful, the description of the present action, which is accomplished vividly, and then the reminisces of the past, which are simultaneously factual and oh-so-relevant to the present. When I say intertwined, however, I don’t mean “a piece of this, a piece of that, a piece of the other, then repeat”. I mean that every sentence and description contributes to the present narrative, the narrative of past, and the growing depiction of the narrator (whom I came to love, perhaps all the more so because she was in a terrible situation and she wasn’t whiny or particularly stoic).

    To me, the latter was the true, great meaning of this book, and I love the book so much because of how deeply and successfully it explores her character. I was initially disappointed when I discovered that, half-way through, the main point of view shifts away from the initial narrator to a different one. However, I was soon reassured when the focus of the novel stayed on the first girl, then one that I had grown to love.

    At that point, about two-thirds of the way through, I loved this book for that first girl. I loved her character, and her complexity, and her humour. Her very first words had me emotionally invested in her in a way that few full-length novels can convince me to be. I loved her. However, that did not make this a Printz Award winner.

    This book became a Printz Award winner once I reached the end. It was brilliant. I know, I know, no spoilers – I’ll do my best to explain myself while dancing around the details. Let’s start with that girl’s character – I was raving about it from the beginning, but the second narrator discovers something very important that changes my whole outlook on the first girl. It challenged my judgments about strength and honour and, because that first girl was so real – so much more than a character – humanity.

    Another concept explored throughout the work truth. What is the truth? Is it objective reality or subjective perception? In many cases this seems pretty clear, but in this book characters are thrown into situations where there are many compounded layers of truth and falsity for they and the readers to sort through. And, you must know how I love surprisingly significant titles (Paper Covers Rock and BLUE, to name a few), well, let’s just say that the title of this book becomes significant at the end when we learn that the girls’ code name was “verity” (NOT a spoiler, it says so on the back cover!). And the entire book was a journaled confession. There is a gorgeous moment when that first girl, finished with her story but uncertain of her future fate, just sits down and writes “I have told the truth I have told the truth I…” over and over until the paper is ripped from her hands. At the time, this seems to the reader like little more than a compulsion – of course she told the truth! – but later… Read the book. Please.

  2. I agree that this is an excellent, engaging read. My attachment to this book began very slowly. I have always had a hard time getting into a historical fiction book. I have to connect with a character for it to become real. Until I care about the characters, I can’t care about their story, but I was willing to try to be attached because of good reviews I had heard. The book did test my patience. Once I was hooked, though, I wanted to find out all of her secrets. The ending was shocking and made me want to go back and re read things to get the deeper meaning.

  3. I have re-read the book, and I love it even more! I have carefully worked out my arguments this time:

    THIS BOOK

    The biggest reason that this is the book is that it takes you in. Even now – months after living this narrative for the first time – I want to sing and sob at the sound of Julie’s last words – “Kiss me, Hardy” – and feel invincible at the thought of Maddie’s mantra – “Fly the plane, Maddie”. A few vivid images are cycling through my mind’s eye – a buried bomb shelter, a desolate and pitch-black cell and, most of all, the view (as I imagine it) from the cockpit of a plane flying into a horizon of green sunlight. I feel simultaneously inspired and heartbroken. And exhilarated. And resilient, and horrified, and determined. This is one of those books that you get so into that it becomes part of you, and the ideas in it are so strong and complex. . . It changes you.

    Here are some specific reasons why I think it is so good:

    NARRATOR
    Julie (the narrator) is the epitome of realistic voice. The writing is very informal, making it very interesting and allowing a lot of her personality to shine through. She is refreshingly human – she doesn’t wine incessantly but she isn’t piously stoic, either. (She says at one point that the person who said “It is an honor to die for my country” before they’re execution must have been BS-ing through their teeth.) She has a pleasantly ironic sense of humour. Best of all, she has no romantic interest whatsoever!

    NARRATION
    The narration, particularly in the first half (Julie’s half) is very intriguing because there are levels. There is what actually happened and Julie’s actual thoughts, but she is aware that everything she writes will be read by the enemy, so she censors. But it is still more complicated: she has to convince them that everything she writes is unfiltered, and sometimes things do accidentally slip through. And, above all, she has to implant some kind of code in case the manuscript ever makes it into her allies’ hands! Everything that she says is richer because everything has a dual or triple meaning! (Particularly “wireless operator” and “wireless se

    TRUTH
    It’s in the title: Verity. We find out that that is in fact Julie’s code name and that what she really does relies heavily on figuring out the truth. Similarly, truth is vital in her situation: How much do her interrogators believe her? How much is she betraying her country? This gets really deep because of the dual/triple meanings. Something may be true on one level, false on another, uncertain on a third… ( For example, upon reading Julie’s manuscript, Maddie observes that large parts of it were absolute gibberish, yet the meaning and emotion behind them were so honest that it was essentially “true”.) And Julie, in the midst of this and under stressful circumstances – is hardly able to keep all of this straight. Her mess-ups are more interesting than when she successfully juggles everything. I find the most striking part of the book to be the very end of her section, where she simply writes “I have told the truth” over and over until they pry the pen from her hand. In those words she is simultaneously convincing her interrogators and defying her captors and reassuring herself.

    COUNTER TO OBJECTION: “The premise is unbelievable.”

    The complaint is that Nazi interrogators would not allow a prisoner (Julie) to write down her information in narrative form with all of her extraneous comments and narrative.

    I counter that, given the personality of the interrogator (von Linden), this premise is within the realm of possibility. The fact that he does allow this marks him as unusual, and therefore makes his character intriguing. We learn that he is entertained by Julie’s resiliency of spirit and her cleverness – perhaps this points to an intellectual boredom in him. More importantly, he identifies with her: they are both creative (albeit in different ways), well-educated and well-read, determined, and (we later learn) have similar occupations. Allowing her to write her narrative provides a lot of entertainment and perhaps some actual intelligent interaction for von Linden.

    However, the book doesn’t anywhere try to make it seem like this indulgency is the norm. Von Linden’s underlings (Thibaut, Engel) have no patience for it, and we later learn that von Linden himself got in a lot of trouble for it. Such unusual behavior can be accepted when it is isolated to one character.

  4. I believe this book will be a finalist for sure. At this point, it is my #1 pick for the Printz Award, although I am waiting to read some other books. I thought the ending was heartbreaking. The characters were engaging and drew me into their story. The plot was a little uneven. It took me awhile to get drawn into the plot and it wasn’t apparent right at the beginning what the main conflict was. This might be the book’s downfall. The theme of truth and loyalty and friendship and bravery was drawn throughout the book. The setting was done well. I could see the prison cell and the farmhouse, as well as the military bases. However, this might be the kicker, I don’t know if it has that X factor that makes a Printz a printz. Does this book go where no books has before? I am not sure about that. What do you think Rachel?

  5. Yes. I think it does. I didn’t experience the difficulty getting into and staying in it, though I guess I can understand that happening. Some reasons this book goes above and beyond anything else I’ve read this year:

    1) Complexity. There are levels upon compounded levels in this book (see “NARRATION” above), and each is addressed in each piece of writing. Not only are all of these levels handled smoothly, but there is a rich dialogue between them. There are many different conflicts and concepts addressed, but they all come together cohesively to create this novel. Moreover, there is interaction with parts of the established literary cannon – Macbeth, Peter Pan, and Orwell, especially. I haven’t had a chance to investigate these much yet, but I suspect that they will lend more insight into the book.

    2) Applicability. This is every inch a “YA” book. It goes beyond the topical typical teen experiences that most books of this genre are based on, to focus on the heart of what it means to be maturing into adulthood. Simplifying it to this extent does the intertextuality disservice, but think about how the journey into France is reminiscent of the trip into Peter Pan’s Neverland (“second star to the left and straight on ’til morning”). There, the young characters (particularly Maddie) are confronted with various forms of moral ambiguity – a hallmark of growing up. Ultimately, a more mature and steadfast Maddie returns to Mrs. Darling and the real world, prepared to face being an adult.

    3) Metaphors. There are a lot of COOL metaphors in this book. Particularly the “wireless set” – what Julie likens herself to. A wireless set is a machine, to be used to and end, then ultimately dismantled – just like she is. She does her assigned duties to the end. Yet she is also a “wireless operator” – manipulating other wireless sets to try a get them to deviate from their programming. In this way, she is an individual, an actor. This role is also just like von Linden’s – so how is she so different from him? This haunts her. This is even more interesting because her story, her fiction, is that she is literally a wireless operator. But she is only able to tell this fiction so convincingly because she has justified its truth in her mind in this way. At one point, she says to Maddie something along the lines of “The trick to lying is to tell the truth”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s