Why I Read It: I’d never heard of this book until early this year, when early reviews were starting to roll in, but ever since, I couldn’t seem to stop hearing about the book. Everyone loved it, sang its praises, so when I had an impulse order from Amazon in June, I added Code Name Verity to the list, because I had to see what all the fuss was about.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: 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.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. This is a book with the kind of plotting that really rewards the unspoiled reader, so I’d hate to be the one to sully anyone’s first read. However, if you’re in a hurry, please skip to “My Rating” for the short version of the review.
Discussion: At first, I’ll admit, I wasn’t seeing what was so impressive. The writing style was entertaining and haunting at the same time, because Verity’s, aka Julie’s, writes so off-handedly about the absolute horrors that are being done to her. You read about something horrible and it doesn’t click until a few pages later, and you’re like, “Hey, wait a minute…” and that is rather horrifying.
But the narrative is definitely, in its own weird way, entertaining. I think that’s intentional on the author’s part. Having Julie make light (sometimes) of her situation makes her human, it makes her brave, because the reader can see through what she’s doing.
There’s a passage early in the book that really got me giggling, probably because I can hear this being read exactly in a friend’s voice (page 7):
“This person I’ve pulled from beneath the wheels of certain death was expecting traffic to travel on the left side of the road. Therefore she must be British, and is likely to have parachuted into Nazi-occupied France out of an Allied plane. I shall now arrest her as a spy.”
One of the things that really helped me settle into the story was trying to figure out who the narrator really was. At first, I thought it was Maddie pretending to be someone else (after all, the narrator knew quite a lot about Maddie, even about scenes where no one but Maddie was present), and then I wondered if the narrator wasn’t Beryl, and the narrator was just disassociating from herself. Well, she was, but we later learn the narrator is Queenie, aka Eva Seiler, aka Julie.
It helped that I was constantly engaged, looking for the story to be more than what it appeared. But when it happened, I was utterly gobsmacked and amazed at the technical efficiency that went behind constructing this book is such a wonderfully believable way that I didn’t see this twist coming. Actually, it’s not a twist so much as it’s…. well, I’m not sure what to call it that doesn’t give it away.
At any rate: when the THING happened, the SHIFT (yeah, that’s it!), I kind of fell in love with this book. I wanted to re-read it immediately thereafter too. And that shift wasn’t even the groundbreaking moment of the book. That moment was utterly and shockingly amazing. And then after THAT moment, all the little pieces come together, and you realize you’re reading something far different than you anticipated, but instead of feeling tricked, you feel elated.
And really, there’s nothing more I can say about this book without babbling into incoherence and spoilers, so let’s wrap this up!
My Rating: 10 – My Precious
This book was utterly deceptive in a wonderful and satisfying way. I started off not understanding the hype, but my interest in the time period as well as the strength of the characters (the narrator, her best friend Maddie, as well as even the supporting cast, heroes and villains alike) kept me going, as did my internal guessing games, wondering who the narrator really was and wondering what kind of trick this book had up its sleeve. Because I was convinced the book had a trick up its sleeve. And of course it did. But even a jaded reader such as myself never saw it coming, and before I was even finished I wanted to flip back to the beginning to start over. It’s that kind of utterly amazing reading experience that I rarely experience, where I’m left in complete and total awe.
Yet it was not a fast read by any means. That’s not a detraction: it just took me time to read the book and really absorb the events as they happened. Despite the light, almost carefree tone of the novel, the events are dark and disturbing and feel more than real. I saw one review where the reader stated that by the end, she felt proud of the characters, and that’s exactly right. They may be fictional, but they’re so deeply rooted in history and so deeply rooted in humanity that you feel like you can open up the pages of a history book and they’ll be right there. It’s a lot to absorb, but it’s also so, so, SO worth the read. I’m thrilled that I gave into the impulse to buy this, and I can’t wait to read it again in the future.
Cover Commentary: The cover is more powerful after reading than it is before, though I can’t say it really catches my eye. I had originally preferred the UK cover, until I understood that I was looking at a girl and not some abstract art (sue me, I prefer abstract). Despite the symbolism packed into the UK cover, which is all very appropriate, I feel it’s a little busy, especially with the tag “I have told the truth” underneath the title. At any rate, the US cover is a bit meh for me, but I like the symbolism on it better.