Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is the story of two girls: Maddie, a young, workingclass English woman, and Julie, a member of the Scottish aristocracy, whose lives become intertwined through their involvement in World War II. Maddie is a mechanically-minded pilot for the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary), a group of civilian pilots that ferried pilots and planes to and from various airfields during the war. Julie is a radio operator who eventually becomes a spy because of her, well, her everything: her bravado, her intelligence, her education, her class–everything. However, this is a story about so much more than just what happens to them during the war; it’s really a story about deep friendship, loyalty, and love. That’s all I’m going to say about the plot because I think this one is best enjoyed if you know very little about it.
How about a few quotes?
Maddie said a silent, secret thank-you to Adolf Hitler for giving her this utterly daft chameleon for a friend. . . (92)
Maddie took the top off her egg with her spoon. The hot, bright yolk was like a summer sun breaking through cloud, the first daffodil in the snow, a golf severeign wrapped in a white silk handkerchief. She dipped her spoon in and licked it. (123)
Here, it happens all the time. It happens all the time–people just disappear, entire families sometimes. No one ever hears of them again. They vanish. Shot-down pilots, of course, torpedoed sailors, of course, you expect that. But here in France it happens to ordinary people, too. The house next door just turns up empty one morning, or the post office clerk doesn’t show up for work, or your friend or your teacher doesn’t come to school. I suppose there was a time, a couple of years ago, when there was a chance they’d run away to Spain or Switzerland. And even now there is a narrow hope that Julie has gone to ground until some unknown danger passes. But more often than not the missing face has been sucked into the engines of the Nazi death machine, like an unlucky lapwing hitting the propeller of a Lancaster bomber–nothing left but feathers blowing away in the aircraft’s wake, as if those warm wings and beating heart had never existed. (227)
Elizabeth Wein has written an extremely powerful book. This story is masterfully crafted, to the point that it really bears a second or third reading so that all the nuances and hints dropped throughout the story can be fully realized and appreciated once one knows the outcome. The first read is sheer emotion and adrenaline. It’s a YA novel, and regular readers here know I am extremely conservative in my opinions about what makes for good reading. This story is not an easy read–it’s both rather convoluted at times and emotionally draining. It contains a good bit of profanity and some sexual innuendo and references. The fact that it contains violence should go without saying, though I found this element more subdued than I expected. However, I’m not sure that a story dealing with the issues in this novel could do otherwise and be a realistically drawn picture of the time period at all. In this way (and because of the subject matter), it reminds me of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (linked to my review). This novel brings huge, important issues to light. Certainly, young readers should read this one and discuss it with someone, preferably a parent. Bottom line? If you like World War II stories, strong female protagonists (though this one is not a typical, rah-rah Girl Power! story), and stories that affect both your mind and your emotions, and if you can plow through the bad language, read this book. Then come back and tell me what you think. I expect this one will win some awards. Highly Recommended. (Hyperion, 2012)