Monday, February 24, 2014

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Summary (from Goodreads):
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, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

A Michael L. Printz Award Honor book that was called "a fiendishly-plotted mind game of a novel" in The New York Times, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other.
This was a very intense read! I can honestly say I have never read anything else like Code Name Verity. I knew it was going to be sad; a girl spy in German occupied France is interrogated by the Gestapo. I wasn’t expecting happiness by any means of the imagination. I also wasn’t expecting a feminist novel about the women involved in war. And despite a lot of possibly made up (for the purpose delaying her life with the Nazis) jargon about planes, code, and the military in general, which I apparently know very little about, I wasn’t expecting to care so deeply and passionately for the main character’s best friend.
And I guess that’s what this book truly is at its core: a remarkable tale of friendship. We don’t get a lot of YA that focuses on friendship above all else. In a way, it was refreshing to not have any romance in the book at all. (I love romance. I really do. But it really would not have worked here, and I’m so glad the author didn’t find it necessary to add).
There are so many layers to the story that make the writing style shine. The main character has so many names, and I kind of feel like it would be spoiling things to give her true name, so I’m going to call her Queenie, one of her nicknames. Queenie has been captured, interrogated, and tortured by Nazis before the story even truly begins. She’s granted a little reprieve from the torture by being allowed to write her story (and confessions) out for the Gestapo.
But instead of writing from her point of view, Queenie mostly revolves her words around the point of view of Maddie, her best friend/pilot. And it’s not in a narc kind of way, but more in a sentimental way. So the reader actually gets to know and love Maddie first, form the eyes of her best friend. And it wasn’t actually until the last quarter of the book that I truly started feeling more than just empathy for Queenie. I ended up looking up to her and being in awe of her bravery, intelligence, and snark.
After all of Queenie’s words are written (across scrap paper, hotel stationary, and recipe cards), the second half of the book switched to Maddie’s point of view. At first I was really happy to see how things ended up for her, but then I kept worring about Queenie. It’s been my experience that when a book switches point of view, no one is safe –narrators can die when the story switches points of view and as I read more and more about Maddie and the risks she was taking, the more I was biting my nails, delaying finishing the story –terrified for all the women of the book.
The story is told beautifully, with layers upon layers of complexity. There were twists and surprises. And I was never 100% sure I could trust Queenie. Was she letting her country down? Was she lying to the nazis? Either way, I had reasons to question the main character. And this made the book even more interesting and mysterious.  Also, it was fascinating to see the roles women were beginning to play in the military at the time period. I loved learning about Maddie’s climb upward as a pilot.
But more than the wonderful writing, the depth of the story, and the unique topics for a YA book, what really made this book stand out were the characters. I felt like I knew them. I knew what they would decide in dire situations. And I was behind them. Worse than reading about Queenie’s torture, was reading about Maddie knowing of Queenie’s torture.
It took me over a week to read, mostly because I kept postponing finishing it because I was afraid of an ending I couldn’t help but guess at. However, the ending was beautiful to read (sad, beautiful, and worth it). Some times the military language slowed me down a little too. And there were a lot of parts I didn’t really believe needed to be included, but I think that was Queenie’s intentions. I got this one from the library, but I own a copy of the companion novel that was sent to me for review. I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to read it though. It promises more intensity. I know I will get to it eventually because I learned how powerful and amazing a writer Elizabeth Wein was with this book, and it would be one of the dumbest decisions in the world not to read everything else she has to say. I give this a 10/10.

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