Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Teen/YA Review: Code Name Verity

I have been reading rave reviews of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein ever since its release in 2012, and I finally had a chance to read it myself. It’s a unique teen/YA historical novel that focuses on the role of women in World War II.

As this unusual novel opens, it becomes clear that the text is being written by one of the characters. She explains in the first pages that she is a captive of the Nazis in occupied France and that she has agreed to write down everything she knows in exchange for small bits of comfort (like getting her clothes back) and staying alive. It is clear that she is a young British woman, but other details of her background and life come out slowly, in the course of her telling her story.

The narrative that she writes is not what the Nazi officer in charge of her expected. Rather than write dull lists of types of airplanes, British airfields, and other wartime details, she writes a story. The officer allows her to do this because he can see that she is a good storyteller, and he is somewhat amused by her unusual methods.

She starts at the beginning, several years ago, with much of her story focused on a young female pilot named Maddie. In fact, it isn’t immediately apparent to the reader exactly who the writer is at first. She describes her friendship with Maddie and how they both became part of the war effort. Along the way, she includes the kinds of details that the Nazis are looking for, but it is certainly a long and convoluted story.

The details of women’s role in World War II as pilots and spies are fascinating; it is an aspect of this much-written-about period of history that is typically overlooked. The story itself is also engaging, about two young women who become friends during this very difficult time in history and how one of them came to be captured by the Nazis (though those details come much later).

The novel is suspenseful and compelling, and the details of this little-known aspect of the War are intriguing. There are plenty of unexpected twists and surprises along the way (though I guessed at the major plot surprise fairly early on). This is a difficult book to read in some ways because it includes details of the narrator’s capture and torture by the Nazis. As my son reminded me when I cried while listening to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas on audio: “Mom, it’s about the Holocaust. You have to expect it to be sad!” As a result, this novel is best for older, more mature teens and young adults.

332 pages, Hyperion

A companion novel by Elizabeth Wein, Rose Under Fire, was just released in September. It also deals with women pilots in World War II, about a young woman pilot who is captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp.


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