Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Code Name Verity (review)

 I know that I promised in last month’s column that I’d write about the Edgar Award Winner in the YA category, but once I read it, I wasn’t all that crazy about the book. Since this is a recommendation column, I’ll tell you instead about a book that I am crazy in love with. 
“I am a coward. I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.” These are the opening words of “Code Name Verity” (Hyperion, 2012) a stunning new novel by Elizabeth Wein. Verity, a.k.a. Queenie (and a number of other names, it turns out), is a Scottish spy who was captured by the Gestapo after a crash landing in occupied France during World War II. 
            She is imprisoned in a once-elegant hotel that now serves as the Gestapo headquarters in a small town in central France. After being tortured by her captor, SS-Hauptsturmf├╝hrer von Loewe, she agrees to write down everything she knows about the British war effort. Like Scheherazade, the storyteller in “One Thousand and One Nights,” Queenie will live only as long as it takes to write her confession.
            And so she tells the story of how she came to her predicament. “The story of how I came to be here starts with Maddie,” she writes—Maddie Brodatt, the pilot who flew her into France.
Through Queenie’s report, written on creamy hotel stationary, on prescription forms, in between the lines of flute music that once belonged to a Jewish flutist, and on recipe cards, we learn the story of the unlikely friendship between the two young women. Maddie Brodatt is English, a secular Jew and a commoner; a natural pilot and airplane mechanic, she is one of the few women to become an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot for the British (in an author’s note, Wein writes that there were in fact female ATA pilots during WWII).  Queenie is of Scottish nobility; her German is flawless, thanks to an education at a Swiss boarding school. She’s gorgeous and cool as a cucumber under pressure: ideal qualifications for a spy.
And now for the hard part of the review: I can’t really tell you much more about “Code Name Verity.” This book is so intricately plotted, with so many twists and turns, that a plot summary would ruin the surprises that await the reader. I can tell you that this book is chock-full of vivid historical details about WWII pilots, spies, the Gestapo, the French resistance, and more. I can tell you that it made me cry. Most importantly, I can tell you that this is a book about the friendship between two smart, strong and courageous women (yes, Queenie was lying about being a coward). “It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend,” Queenie writes. “We’re still alive and make a sensational team.” So they do.

This review originally appeared in the Sunday, May 27 print edition of The News-Gazette. I received an advance review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.   


Anonymous said...

I'll add this book to my requests at the UFL. I've been interested in learning about the French Resistance, about what happened to/with 'ordinary' people during WWII, for years. While talking about that era with my daughter, when she was younger, I posed the question "I wonder if I would have been brave enough to be a helper?"
It led to a fabulous discussion. This book sounds like it would enrich that examination.

Sara Latta said...

I think you'll love it! Does UFL have it yet? It just came out.

Netherland said...

The books you never think you're going to read are often the books that surprise you, whether that surprise is good or bad. Code Name Verity sat on my shelf for well over a month and it was never my intent to read it in the first place. After a terrible reading streak (nine of the last ten books I've read were either jaw-droppingly terrible or underwhelming), I remembered a 10/10 review Code Name Verity got from one of The Book Smugglers, aka two of my favorite reviewers ever, and gave it a shot.

Good surprise, everyone! Good surprise! Oh my gosh, this book. If I could, I would drop a bunch of crying GIFs and squeeing GIFs here and call it a day, but that won't make anyone understand why I've hardly let go of the book since I started reading it. Wein's story of friendship and survival during World War II tore my heart into pieces.