Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

wraf

My goodness, this book is brilliant. The story opens with the confession of a captured prisoner: she frankly admits that she is a coward. Stuck behind enemy lines, a young, attractive and clearly rather traumatised British spy is writing down all of her knowledge of British secret missions for the German officer in charge. We don’t know why she is doing this; she states herself that she will be shot anyway. This is confusing and intriguing and suggests that everything is not as it seems. We quickly learn that the as yet unnamed spy, whose code name is Verity, was being flown into France on a secret mission, but the plane, flown by her best friend Maddie, a female pilot in a specialised transport unit, got into difficulties and crash landed. While escaping, Verity got captured. Maddie got left behind.

Instead of telling her own story, Verity decides to tell Maddie’s story, and through the tale of Maddie’s childhood, her obsession with planes, and her joining the WRAF and meeting Verity, the reader can’t help but develop a strong bond with both characters, who are brought wonderfully to life. Maddie is a tomboy with a spirit of adventure and a reckless bravery, though she is also incredibly sensitive, loving and prone to tears at the sound of gunfire. Verity is a beautiful aristocrat, but she cares nothing for either of these things and is a fearless, intelligent and utterly ingenious woman with a fierce loyalty to those she loves. Maddie and Verity become an unlikely duo, both excelling in their chosen areas of war work. Their friendship appears to have come to a devastating end with Verity’s incarceration and Maddie’s death in the plane crash, leaving the reader to wonder whether Verity’s confession is purely a way to keep her friend alive.

However, this is a much more sophisticated novel than that. A change of narrator, a massive plot twist and a series of devastating revelations turns the entire first section of the book on its head. Nothing is as it at first seems. This is one of those books that you need to read twice to truly appreciate; the clever unmasking of Verity in the second section means that everything in the first section takes on a new meaning that can only be fully understood by going back over it and unpicking the clues left in the narrative. I stayed up until 2am to finish this; I was absolutely gripped by the plot, and completely emotionally engaged with the characters. I was utterly engrossed to the point where I couldn’t believe what was happening in front of my eyes and was desperate to jump in and change the course of events. I was genuinely shocked by what transpired, and was left in floods of pathetic tears by the end.

Code Name Verity is officially classified as a ‘Young Adult’ book, and I fear this will put a lot of adult readers off. Don’t let it. I can see why it’s been deemed such; the language is not overly sophisticated, the protagonists are two young women, the novel is mainly about friendship and bravery, and it’s all rather chaste. However, this doesn’t make it a novel unsuitable for adults. It is a beautiful exploration of the power of the human spirit and the importance of being true to yourself and those you love. It’s a fascinating and informative account of the roles many women played in WWII, often under the radar and without much attention or fanfare. It is, essentially, what good writing is all about; I was truly transported to another world, and left amazed and inspired by what I had read. I literally couldn’t put it down. How often do we get to have these kind of experiences when reading a novel? I enjoy most of the novels I read, but they rarely make me gasp out loud, cry my eyes out, or lay awake in the wee small hours, mourning for the characters I’ve just left behind. Everybody needs to read this. I don’t care how old you are!

23 comments

  1. I listened to this as an audiobook, which I would highly recommend! And the author has a new title, Rose Under Fire, coming out next Monday.

  2. I’m really glad you’ve reviewed this. For a few weeks my morning commute had me standing opposite an enormous advert for it on the Jubilee line southbound platform at Bond Street station, and I was intrigued by it. One to add to the list of things to buy when my self-denying year of no book-buying is up on 31 December!

  3. Wonderful review! Make sure to read Rose under Fire, which I have not done yet, and tell us what you think of that one too. I am steeling myself for it. Code Name Verity was wonderful but so so sad, and I’m nervous to read the second one.

  4. Wasn’t it an interesting book? At first I thought it a bit tedious and found myself getting impatient with the “one-sided” story line. I was very happy to have stuck it out because it turned out to be a very enjoyable novel. Right now I am reading “The Time in Between”…also set in the 30s and 40s. I am mesmerized by the history and details.

  5. You’ve done it again, Rachel. This is at several libraries in our interlibrary loan system and I’m hoping to read it soon . . . and here you are, taking on your own challenge with young adult book reading by contemporary authors. I am very impressed, Rachel.

  6. Wow! you make this sound great. Must admit Young Adult puts me off but will give this one a go, based on your recommendation. Am so impressed you get through so many books too, I am in a bit of a reading slump, just can’t seem to get them read, been watching Spiral (French cop/lawyer drama) on DVD and this has been taking up my time I suppose.

    1. Don’t be put off, Blighty! It’s brilliant and you won’t really know it’s Young Adult at all! Thanks – my reading will slow down massively now school has started so don’t be too impressed!

  7. I read this earlier in the year as part of a Carnegie Medal Shadow Group and I so desperarately wanted it to win, which unfortunately it didn’t. I agree though, it is a brilliant read.

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