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.
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The book is told in a split first-person point of view (which occurs halfway through the book), between Queenie (“Verity”), and her best friend, Maddie. Queenie is a bold, German-speaking Scottish aristocrat who has been captured by the Nazis, and is being interrogated as a spy. Maddie is more of a simple country girl with a knack for mechanics, who’s managed to work her way into piloting for the British ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary). She also happened to be responsible for dropping Queenie off for her ill-fated mission…
To her credit, the author went to a great deal of trouble to ensure nearly all the details she presents were at least historically possible, however technically fictionalized. The writing is strong and deftly skilled—fraught with a thoughtful profundity and emotional resonance the likes of which I rarely see in YA lit. Indeed, I often forgot that YA was the intended audience.
The POV switch in part 2 is actually a pleasant surprise. It was getting a bit straining to continuously be in the midst of Verity's physical and mental torture. While surprisingly non-graphic, the implied was more than enough to maintain a disquieting amount of tension. And the compromised humiliation she is reduced to will leave readers continually wondering:
“What would I do if I were her?”
The complexity of characterization, even in the Nazis, is admirable. The only thing I found myself struggling with was relational. I wasn’t entirely convinced of how thoroughly bonded Maddie and Verity are in their friendship. The loyalty was understandable—if only because of the unifying factor of wartime pressures, and being very young and female in the midst of a massively male-dominated work/war-force. But the friendship itself didn’t quite get into the emotional depth I was hoping for. The pacing also lagged a bit through the first part of the story, as Verity/Queenie had more than enough reason to stall in what she gave up to the Gestapo.
Regardless of my minor qualms, I wanted to reiterate how uniquely compelling I found this work. It’s an immersive history lesson and an ethical quandary, wrapped in a remarkable storytelling effort. Even if you think you’ve had about enough of the war against Nazi occupation, this one is well worth your time.
This book has gotten lots of buzz, all positive and deserved. I avoided most reviews because this is a book that should not be spoiled. The barest plot summary: two best friends serve as a pilot and wireless operator in WWII and the novel is an epistolary account of their experiences during the war. I really don't want to say any more of the actual details because my experience reading the novel was so much richer from being unspoiled.
Apart from the intrigue and war, this is a story of friendship. Author Elizabeth Wein explains it, "It's like being in love, discovering your best friend." It's even more simple than falling in love, since there is less risk involved. I love the relationship between Maddie and Queenie and the tribute that each pays to the other. Maddie describes Queenie as, "Gloriously daft, drop-dead charming, full of bookish nonsense and foul language, brave and generous." Nobody knows us like our best friends.
Code Name Verity is nearly perfect; yes, it starts a bit slow, but otherwise it is clever, sad, beautiful, and a book that I wanted to read again immediately after finishing. A must-read.
It is a truly moving story about friendship and loyalty. Great book for readers who are interested in WWII. Some readers will enjoy the detail descriptions of war time aviation while others might feel it slows down the pace. Really enjoyed the strong female characters. It is definitely a book I will recommend to others.
The thing is, it's a good book. I liked the writing and storytelling, but I was bored nonetheless for 3/4 of the book. The fault is my own when it comes to that, though. See, historical fiction has never been my thing. Of course, I've had a few I really enjoyed here and there which, combined with the high praises, lead me to investigate Code Name Verity.
I'm sad Verity wasn't the knock-out I'd been hoping for, but I did still enjoy it, especially the end. Right off the bat, I enjoyed the writing. Our narrator was so normal. When I read historical fiction I always expect formal language and whatnot, but it wasn't like that in the least. Then again, it was set only 70 years ago. Verity (I think that's the least telling of her names, so that's what we'll go with) was so real. She was sarcastic and witty and brave, but so vulnerable as well. And you know what, I don't blame her in the least. Not everyone can stoically endure the various forms of torture Verity underwent. I loved her for her rash defiance and consequent regret for it.
Though the story was slow-going for me because of its historical roots, I also really enjoyed learning all the new things I did. The funny thing is how I don't usually enjoy historical fiction as a form of entertainment, but I really enjoy learning about history. It's even better knowing how much research Wein put into Verity. I love the bit about the ballpoint pen. Who would've known it was originally invented for use in the Royal Air Force?
Oh man, that twist. At the end? Yeah, I didn't see that coming. How could I? It was set up so perfectly, and for that I applaud Miss Wein.
I loved the total difference between the first and second parts. I don't want to give too much away, but I really appreciated the difference in voice. The second was more clipped and formal while the first was lavish and very story-focused.
Guys, I cried. I mean, I thought I was going to cry, but the reason surprised me in the end all the same. And since I was reading at work it really wasn't pretty. I was drying my eyes every five seconds so I wouldn't look like a complete mess when customers came in, but I'm not one to deny myself a good cry, so I let it flow anyway.
The Nutshell: Code Name Verity wasn't everything I'd hoped it would be, but I know this is largely due to the high expectations I had going in. I did enjoy the writing and storytelling as well as Verity's voice overall. I'm glad to have read it, but in the end I wouldn't say it was a life-changer.
Despite some acknowledged artistic license, this book would be an excellent way to integrate history and literature in a classroom. It's also a great way to teach foreshadowing and point of view if you happen to be tired of the old staples. I suspect this would not be relegated to the pile of books kids were forced to read but not love. I should also mention that even though this is definitely a girl power book, it's also a book about espionage, flying, and war. So if you have a room of stereotypical boys and unstereotypical girls, both camps will love it.
Code Name Verity is an intricately-woven story of friendship, truth and lies. It is a deeply emotional book - it made me laugh, and it made me cry - as well as very thought-provoking, showing a glimpse of the ruthlessness of a side of war that we don't often think about - all the covert undercover work that went on behind the scenes.
Despite this, Code Name Verity managed to be a very entertaining read and I grew to really love the characters of Maddie and Queenie (not her real name, but several names are used for her in the book and I'm going to refer to her as this for the purpose of my review because it is the one that you know her by for the longest, I think.)
Queenie was just so dynamic and seemingly fearless - a real free-spirited character - and I think I viewed her with the same awe and admiration that Maddie probably did. Actually, I'm going to quote Maddie's description of her best friend because it is just perfect:
"Gloriously daft, drop-dead charming, full of bookish nonsense and foul language, brave and generous."
Queenie loves pretending and she's good at making up stories, which is why she is in the Special Operations Executive, and it's clear that she really is excellent at what she does (apart from the fact that '[she has] no sense of direction; in some of us it is a TRAGIC FLAW', which led to her being captured by the Gestapo after being in France for less than 48 hours, simply because she'd looked the wrong way before crossing the street.) Anyhow, this excellence of hers becomes even more clear at the end of the book! (I won't say any more because I don't want to spoil it!)
The first part of the book is Queenie's written account for her captors and her voice is so engaging and entertaining to read. In little chunks, she tells us hers and Maddie's story - a touching tale of true friendship. However, I must admit that I sometimes found bits of the stories from the past that Queenie was telling a little bit...boring, what with all the talk of aircrafts and flying and whatnot. (It's okay, though! It was only the odd occasion! And anyway, looking back, having finished the whole book, I can guarantee that it's worth sticking it out to get to the end!)
Anyway, Queenie's story was interjected with snippets from the present and what was currently happening to her. I, personally, found these bits more amusing in general. Despite the torture she's withstood or, as she euphemistically puts it, 'the, ah, stressful circumstances' she's been put through, her fire and fighting spirit remain and she stays, for the most part, chatty and upbeat. She has a tendency to forget she is not writing this for herself and the results of this are rather funny. For example, one time, after viciously insulting von Linden, the man for whom this report is being written, she suddenly realises and writes -
"Oh my God, why do I do it - again and again? I HAVE THE BRAIN OF A PTARMIGAN HEN. HE WILL SEE ANYTHING I WRITE."
Overall, Code Name Verity was a very enjoyable and moving read. Queenie and Maddie were such likable, real characters and they truly were a sensational team. Reading their story, I almost felt like I was there, a part of that sensational team with them.
And the ending was...perfect. Bittersweet, but I wouldn't have wanted it to end any other way. After reading this, I had that satisfied feeling of having just digested a really great book. Seriously, it's well worth the time.
I am not a fan of historical fiction. No, I've never particularly enjoyed the genre. I've always been a fantasy and sci fi girl through and through, but I decided to give Code Name Verity a chance for two reasons: (1) I thought it was about time that I tried something new and (2) this book was so hyped-up and I was curious.
Admittedly, I don't like hyped-up books. I always like rooting for the underdogs, so whenever I see a hyped-up book, I want to read it to prove everyone else wrong. I want to prove that another book--one of the underdogs--is better. Sometimes I do finish the book and think, "So-and-so book was better." And sometimes I finish the book and think, "I was wrong."
Code Name Verity was one of the latter.
The first few pages of this book were a bore. I was looking for an excuse to drop it, but I decided that I'd give it fifty pages before I'd start another book. The narrator--"Verity"--seemed to draw out her words, making her sentences much longer than they had to be. I had trouble deciphering her eloquent language, and I mostly skimmed over the tedious descriptions she provided.
Somewhere in those fifty pages, I realized that the writing was just her style.
Fifty pages along, I got too caught up in the plot to even think about her writing style.
Even though I have never been a fan of history (hey, this A+ student here is a whiz in math and science, all right?), World War II has always been such an interesting topic to me. War is just so horribly fascinating. Not the machinery and aircraft used, no. (I get bored to death, hearing about those.) No, it's the people. The spies. The interrogators. The pilots. The soldiers. They fascinate me, these people who are willing to lay down their lives for a cause they believe in. And the people in this book are just so plausible. They could be one of my friends. And they all have their faults and imperfections, but they also have their good aspects. I loved Verity and Maddie and Jamie. I loved how Verity always took offense when people called her English (she's Scottish), I loved the feeling Maddie had when she was in the air, I loved how understanding Jamie was. These people--HOW ARE THEY SO BELIEVABLE.
And the complexities in this novel! ELIZABETH WEIN, YOU ARE GENIUS. Surprises hitting me AT EVERY TURN, and clues being passed EVER SO SUBTLY. Just absolutely genius. I really wish I could say more on the subject, but there would be simply too many spoilers.
And perhaps the most important aspect: Verity and Maddie's relationship. I have a best friend, you see, who's been with me for eleven years of my life. (Considering that I'm only a teen, that's more than half my life.) And I get it. I really do. The knowing someone like the back of your hand, the emotions behind everything that you do. I get it. It's hard to explain--it really is--but Wein captures it so perfectly.
Code Name Verity was fabulous. It's more than a book about the hardships of war. It's a book about a bond so deep that death can't sever. The name of that bond? Friendship.
Source: ARC/galley received from publisher for review
Code Name Verity is INTENSE. It is a novel of war, of interrogation, of women, and, most importantly, of friendship. Verity/Queenie (neither her real name, which you won't learn until about two hundred pages in) and Maddie are best friends. Maddie is a pilot and Verity does, well, lots of things. At the opening, the reader is working through Verity's confession. She has been caught by Nazis in occupied France, and has spilled her secrets. She is committing to paper everything she knows about the British war effort.
Verity's section, the first half of the book, gave me the most trouble. While I did like Verity's humor in the face of awfulness, I had a lot of trouble with the way that part was written. Verity writes in third person and in first person. When writing about past events she mostly uses third person, which is fine and interesting, as it conveys that she no longer feels like the same girl that she used to be. However, she also occasionally uses first person when talking about the past, not just the present, and I found that shift awkward and unrealistic. Maybe it's supposed to be a symptom of the pressure Verity is under or something, but I had trouble with this style.
Maddie's tale comes next, and I found it much more easy to read, even though it lacked the humor and, perhaps, the excitement of Verity's. I nearly made it through this book without shedding a tear, but Maddie got me in the end. I loved their friendship, and getting to see it from both perspectives, especially since it's hard to know what's going on with Verity. You can be more sure of verity from Maddie. Ironic that.
Other than the previously-noted issue, the writing was amazing. The story focused a bit too much on details that didn't especially capture my attention, another reason it moved so slowly, like the different kinds of planes. Oddly enough, this is something I also very much appreciate about the book, because it's so chock-full of history and so different from any other young adult book I've read.
Code Name Verity may not capture you immediately, but it's worth a read if you have any interest in history. It's also wonderful to read another WWII book on women's roles, especially the much more rare of women actually involved in what are more traditionally male occupations in the war machine.
I have to put in a bit of a disclaimer. I read this as an egalley on my Kindle and I'm not sure what it was, but the formatting was really wonky. And that did effect my experience reading it, I know that. I almost feel like I can't judge it until I read a finished copy, so I can read it properly. So...yeah.
I really liked reading about Maddie and Verity's story. I liked how Verity told it and how there were always these little surprises. Sometimes I could guess it, but not always. I really, really liked the twist that comes a little more than half way through the book. That was wholly unexpected.
Code Name Verity is an emotional story. Everyone I've heard from has talked about the tears, oh the tears! I never cried, but I was pretty freaking close. It wasn't what I expected to be teary about either. I certainly felt emotionally drained by the end of the book, though. Very much like I did after Mockingjay.
If anything, I would say I want more. I want to know what goes on after the book ends. I want to know how things turn out for our characters as the war wraps up and even beyond then. I have some suspicions, but I just wanna know if I'm right.
Elizabeth Wein knows how to tell a damned good story. She knows how to make things tense and high stress and mess with your head. She knows how to make your heart break and she knows how to make you smile.
Overall, Code Name Verity was unexpectedly amazing. I really wish I could've loved it the way everyone else did, and maybe if I reread it as a physical book with all the proper formatting, I would. I strongly encourage you to go and pick up a copy of this book and read this book.