Book Review (Code Name Verity)

Bibliography: Wein, Elizabeth. Code Name Verity. New York, New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012. ISBN-13:  9781423152194.

Plot Summary: This book is about a friendship between two female air pilots, both of whom crash land in Nazi-occupied France. The survivor, Verity, ends up in a gestapo prison, with the officers there, led by Haupsturmführer von Linden, into trying to get her into giving away secrets. She either says all that she knows or she is to face an execution. Verity writes out her confessions, but does so while thinking of her companion, Maddie and all that has happened before she ended up where she is.

Critical Analysis: I have never read a book so intricately plotted as I have with this book. This book is about someone with a secret mission. You go page by page wondering who is Verity and how did everything come to happen to her. You also start finding Easter eggs throughout all her writings. You even realize there is a reason why she underlines certain phrases (which I will not state why because they are important later on in the story.) The author knows much about the technology used in World War II. In her afterword, Wein states that because she was also a female pilot herself, she “wanted to explore the possibilities what would have been open to her during the Second World War…” Weis is also forthright on the liberties she has taken in the afterword. “Bear in mind that despite my somewhat exhaustive quest for historical accuracy, this book is not meant to be a good history, but rather a a good story.” She states that The Forgotten Pilots by Lettice Curtis helped her plot the story as did assistance from the Imperial War Museum of London and the Shuttleworth Collection.

In fact, combined with her pilot knowledge and books on the Air Transport Auxiliary, Wein was able to write convincingly of two pilots with the knowledge they are trained to have. This will be an excellent book for reluctant readers that have an interest in warfare, even if they might not be history fans. Her writing is an interesting combination of gritty and beautiful. She does not hesitate to have Verity talk about the tortures she undergoes, including having her head forced into a basin of water when she is not cooperating. But she also talks of the beauty in this world, such as the experience the women have when in flight. “God’s truth-the rim of the lowering sun, all they could see of it, had turned green. It was sandwiched in between a bank of low dark haze and a higher bank of dark cloud, and just along the upper edge of the haze was this bright lozenge of flaming green, like Chartreuse liqueur with light behind it. Maddie had never seen anything like it.”

Friendship is central to this entire novel and the author shows both narrator and Maddie as doing anything for one another. In fact, Verity writes out her confessions thinking of how Maddie came to become a pilot. Verity introduces Maddie first before herself, even. That said, another theme this book has is mortality in war. Verity talks of her fears time and time again, once even stating, “I am no longer afraid of getting old. Indeed I can’t believe I ever said anything so stupid. So childish. So offensive and arrogant…But mainly, so very, very stupid. I desperately want to grow old.”

Wein also manages to show the Nazis as villains while not making them static. This includes the main one, von Linden. The reader learns that he has a daughter he wants to keep safe (He says to Verity, “‘Isolde is innocent of my war work.'”) He loves to read all sorts of literature. Not to mention, he used to work at a school. This does not mean that he is free from his crimes. In fact, this book serves as a great facilitator of discussion for readers about what can make a human do evil choices, why is it so much more horrifying to others that a normal man could make those type of decisions and actions. Wein has managed to show the Nazi characters not as stereotypes, but as full-flesh human beings, and it makes the book all the more powerful. This is a book about a war, but it is also about the people in that war.

This title has a lot of history in its pages, combined with a good, intricate story, strong female characters. It has young adults feel that they are being spoken to without any condescension. In fact, readers may enthusiastically read this book twice just so they can catch what they missed before as everything comes out at the end.

Review Excerpt and Awards won:

Michael L. Printz Award (2013), Golden Kite Award for Fiction (2013), Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Young Adult Novel (2013), and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.

Following excerpt is from Kirkus Reviews, published May 15, 2012, and posted online February 15, 2012:

“Through the layers of story, characters (including the Nazis) spring to life. And as the epigraph makes clear, there is more to this tale than is immediately apparent. The twists will lead readers to finish the last page and turn back to the beginning to see how the pieces slot perfectly, unexpectedly into place.

A carefully researched, precisely written tour de force; unforgettable and wrenching.”

Connections: Run a discussion group between all the readers and have them discuss what elements of war may have made them uncomfortable and why. Ask them how they felt the Nazis were portrayed in this book and how they are done differently in other forms of media. Ask them how they felt about learning of the female pilots of World War II.

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