December 17, 2012

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Published: 2012, Hyperion
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Source: Library book
Goodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

But I have told the truth. Isn't that ironic? They sent me because I am so good at telling lies. But I have told the truth.

I had to reflect a few days after finishing this book before I could even begin to collect my thoughts into anything resembling coherent words. Reading this book made me experience such a wide range of emotions, not all pleasant. But, reflecting back on my experience reading the book, I still retain a sense of awe for such a wonderful story. Through this book Elizabeth Wein has crafted a story of hope and an incredible friendship during World War II. Although glowing reviews abound for this novel, I wanted to add my two cents of support.

On the Western Front of World War II, Maddie, the granddaughter of a bike shop owner, and Verity, an upper-class Scot, meet by chance and find their lives inexorably linked as they both serve the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and gradually form a friendship. After many months serving the Allied forces within England, Maddie volunteers to fly Verity to France for a mission. Their plane is hit and Verity parachutes to land, only to be captured by the Gestapo and told that the pilot's remains have been found within the plane. Heartbroken and alone, Verity agrees to tell her captors/torturers Allied secrets in exchange for borrowed time. The story that Verity tells, however, is not simply about Allied secrets, but about the relationship between Verity and Maddie.
I have such a weakness for unreliable narration. Even though I'm the most gullible and oblivious reader ever, it gives me great pleasure to read a story with an unreliable narrator. Whether or not I know upfront if the narrator is reliable or not, I get such a delight over reading (or going back to reread) a story and trying to determine which parts are "truthful." I knew that, despite Verity's allegations to the contrary, her reports of Ally secrets to the Nazis were not going to be entirely truthful. Even so, I found myself fascinated to learn what could have been the story of Verity and Maddie along with Verity's Nazi captors. 
The second half of the novel is told from a new perspective through another character, Kittyhawk, and it is through this part that everything became clear and so gloriously rewarding for me. While I did enjoy Verity's narration, certain parts were a bit difficult for me to truly grasp. Verity is very conscious of her audience both the Nazis with whom she is revealing key Allied intelligence, and the Allied forces she hopes will eventually read her entries — and the novel's readers don't fit into either group. This is obviously a deliberate decision on Wein's part and I appreciated Verity's narrative all the more for it. It was nice, however, for Kittyhawk to provide an easier entrance into the world of Great Britain's section of Allied pilots and our heroines.
I found both protagonists of the story to be very likable. While I know that a lot of people struggled with their feelings towards Verity — she is narrating her history to enemy forces, after all — I never really had that problem. From the sharp wit infused in her storytelling to her decision to refer to her story self in third person, I had a feeling from the beginning that there was much more to Verity than her initial introduction. Verity is aware that she's near the end of her life and although she's agreed to divulge Allied codes and secrets, she's no terrified prisoner of war. Verity frequently challenges her captors both through her writing and directly to their faces. Even being captured and believing that her people will view her as a traitor, Verity remains uncowed. She's one of the strongest heroines I've ever read and I thoroughly enjoyed her twisty narrative.
Through Verity's narration, Maddie starts out as the more easily likable heroine. Once the narration switches to Kittyhawk's point of view, Maddie continues to be a worthy protagonist. Although I did think that Maddie had a much greater chance of falling into the likable, good, but somewhat bland heroine mold, fortunately that was not the case. Whereas Verity almost idealizes Maddie, Kittyhawk brings a much more realistic side to Maddie's character. Although the technical details fell a little flat for me, I absolutely loved Maddie's passion for flying planes and her determination to help others by doing what she loves to do, regardless of the fact that she's a woman in a traditionally male-dominated career.
Where Code Name Verity really shines, however, is in its depiction of Verity and Maddie's friendship. Both of them are incredibly well-defined in their own right, and together they form a wonderful team. Any hints to potential romance are subtle. The story is about Verity and Maddie's friendship: how they cause one another to grow into a strong woman with good morals, and how incredibly supportive they are of one another. According to Verity's narration of their lives with the Allied forces, Verity and Maddie frequently spent time apart. But those moments they had together were enough to forge a realistic and heartrendingly beautiful friendship. When Verity first explains how she and Maddie became friends, she uses this little gem: "It's like being in love, discovering your best friend.” Yes. This little phrase perfectly encapsulates the relationship between Verity and Maddie. 
Not only do Verity and Maddie have an enviable friendship, but I loved how Wein chose to focus solely on the ties of a strong friendship within her novel. Too frequently we're force-fed stories of love surviving challenging circumstances amidst great odds. Love is supposed to be the great uniter, the fount of hope. But this hope is reserved for romantic love, more often than not. Which is a shame, because many times friendships will outlast romantic love interests, especially for teens and young adults. It was with great pleasure, therefore, for me to read this story that focuses on Verity and Maddie and their relationship to each other. 
I also appreciated how Code Name Verity allowed me to look at a major historical event from another perspective. Through my U.S. school system I certainly learned a lot about World War II — mainly from America's perspective, and certainly more about the men who fought rather than the women who stayed home or fought. Not only does Code Name Verity show the Western Front through the perspective of the people of the British Isles, but the focus is on two women who become involved in the war effort. There's a vast different between vaguely knowing that some women were involved in the war effort and reading an account (albeit a fictionalized one) where women are actively participating in the fight. World War II is one of the wars most widely spoken of and popularized through all forms of media, so I definitely appreciate being able to gain new knowledge or a different perspective of it.
The sole qualm I had with the story is it's classification as a Young Adult novel. Verity has graduated high school (or at least I assume her Swiss boarding school went through high school). Both Verity and Maddie are treated as adults and have adult wartime responsibilities throughout the novel. Now, I don't want to be perceived as thinking the book is too mature for young adult readers; rather, I think that this is a book that could and should be enjoyed equally by adults and I wonder if placing it within the teen section of a bookstore or library will give it the awareness it so clearly deserves.
Regardless of your age, Code Name Verity is a solidly written, thought-provoking, and emotionally-driven novel of two courageous young women in the midst of World War II. Even if this does not sound like your typical type of novel, I highly recommend reading Code Name Verity — it is an experience that should not be missed.
author image


Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I've had this book waiting for me to read for months now and it sounds like such a powerful read -- and one that I KNOW I'd love. Still, there's some hesitance from me to actually pick it up because I know it'll be deeply affecting and I don't know if I'm prepared for that right now. Weird, right? When I finally give it its chance, though, I will fully immerse myself in it. Thanks for the thoughtful review!

    1. I actually totally understand you. I just read If I Stay by Gayle Forman with no expectations going in and it was not the story I expected it to be. It was still good, but my mood and expectations definitely affected my experience reading it. Thanks, Steph! I hope that you find yourself in an appropriate mood to read it very soon! :)

  2. Awesome, awesome review!! My thoughts exactly. Maddie and Verity's friendship was absolutely my favourite part of the story - it was SO refreshing to have a story not focus on romantic love, but on friendship. And yeah, I loved reading the history from a different perspective than what I learned in school... if only all history textbooks were like this, I would've had a much more entertaining time learning the history! I really hope to read more books like this in the future. And hopefully read this one again, actually (I feel like I missed out on clues from the first half of the novel!). I had never thought about it before, but you make a very good point about the disadvantage of it ending up in the YA section!

    1. Thanks so much, Aylee! I was a bit of a history nerd in school, but I definitely enjoyed being able to apply what I learned in class to historical fiction books then. I wanted what I was learning to have some relevance outside of class and all. :) And yes, at some point a re-read of this book is definitely necessary. It's so rich that I'm sure most people missed out on certain aspects during the first read-through.


Thank you for taking the time to comment! I strive to make my blog the very best it can possibly be and I appreciate each and every comment on here.