Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Published: 6 February 2012 (Electric Monkey)
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Plot Summary (from Amazon):
Two young women become unlikely best friends during WWII, until one is captured by the Gestapo. Only in wartime could a stalwart lass from Manchester rub shoulders with a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a special operations executive. Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly and before long become devoted to each other. But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in “Verity’s” own words, as she writes her account for her captors. Truth or lies? Honour or betrayal? Everything they’ve ever believed in is put to the test…
This book has been on my to-read list for so long. I've heard so many incredible things about it, so when it was announced the author would be at Leakycon London, I knew I had to give in and read it. Code Name Verity tells the story of two friends during the second world war. One is held captive by the Gestapo, and must write a diary detailing her mission.
I'm writing this the morning after finishing the book, and my heart is still a little bit fragile. This is truly one of the most phenomenal books I have read. I'll start by saying that usually I'm not a big fan of historical novels, which is possibly why I've been putting this book off, but I've read a few books set during WWII and really enjoyed them so I had hope for Code Name Verity. Whilst reading it, I didn't really think about the fact it was historical. I was so caught up the two girls' story and the atmosphere of the war that it felt as if I was right there living it with them, which I think is one of the best compliments I can give a novel.
The plot revolves around what happens to the two girls when they become separated after a plane crash. All the time there are hints at what's to come and I was constantly on the edge of my seat waiting to find out the fate of each character. It's hard to write this review without giving too much away! The narrator for the first half of the book keeps her true identity secret for a while (although it's easy to figure out just who she is in the story). Throughout the book the characters are known by several names (code names and such, as the title would suggest!).
That first half is told through diary entries as one of the girls is holed up after being captured by the Gestapo. What she goes through is brutal and horrible, but even though there's this suffering going on, she manages to keep this fantastic humour as she tells her story. Her voice throughout the diary entries is incredibly strong and she's definitely somebody I wouldn't want to mess with! It was just amazing how I could go to being shocked, to scared, to saddened and then be laughing at the same time. She makes jokes and witty observations about her captors and really speaks her mind. I adored the storytelling in the entries and how wonderfully the tale was told.
Code Name Verity contains some incredible female characters. From the two main characters whose tale is being told - Queenie and Maddie - to the people they are surrounded by who have an influence on them. Maddie is a pilot, and an extremely capable one. Throughout the book we see how she's surprised and impressed people with her skill and determination. Queenie on the other hand is a talented linguist, with the ability to speak English, French and German, something vital to the war effort. I loved seeing the other female characters' roles play out as well, such as the pilot Maddie takes inspiration from - Dympna - and Engel, the female captor we see present throughout the capture scenes.
The book may be set during the war but ultimately it's a tale of friendship. The relationship between the girls is so strong, and defies so many boundaries. The girls come from different social backgrounds and have different skills and personalities, yet they fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. Some of my favourite scenes were the ones in which they share their fears with each other. It was so personal and touching to see that close relationship and trust between them. The two of them are facing some pretty horrible circumstances and have to be brave and focused, so it was really moving to see that vulnerable side of them both that they felt comfortable enough to share with each other.
I found the WWII stuff itself to be completely fascinating. The book features life inside the Women's Auxiliary Airforce which was something I knew little, if anything, about before picking up Code Name Verity. I loved the insight into the lives of women during the war, and particularly the pilots whose job it was to ferry people around. It's a dangerous job and my heart was in my mouth throughout the book as we see the characters face the reality of flying during the war. I have family in Stockport, where large parts of the book is set, so I was particularly wrapped up in those moments and that setting.
The story was so intricate with all the pieces starting to fall into place at the end as the story concludes. There were some incredible twists that I didn't see coming, and most of them just shattered my heart into a thousand tiny pieces! It's rare a book stirs up so much emotion in me, and all ranges of emotion at that. When I finished the book I had to take a moment to absorb everything that had happened. The story and characters will stay with me for a very long time. Despite how much this book tore me up inside, it's one of the few books I have wanted to read all over again the second I finished it. It's a book I'll be recommending and sharing with others and I can't wait to reread it in years to come.
What to read next: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Books like this: My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve, The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult