Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Every review you see if this book is sparse in details but tells you that you MUST READ IT. There is a reason for that. If I gave you too many details, I would totally ruin this book for you and you would hate me forever. And, yet, somehow I must convey to you that you MUST READ THIS BOOK. So let me start with this . . .
I hate historical fiction. I hated history as a student. If I were to have an arch nemesis it would be history. There are important things to be learned from history. Amazing stories to be told. There is value in history. It’s just that if I am choosing a book to read, 99 times out of 100 it is not going to be historical. And yet – yet I loved this book. It is a powerful story. If I am telling you that I loved this book, well, that in itself is a strong testament. I can count the number of historical fiction titles that I recommend with enthusiasm on one hand. Code Name Verity joins the ranks.
We begin our tale in a prison where an unnamed narrator has been given two weeks to write down her story. She has been captured in enemy territory after the plane she was in, being flown by her best friend, is shot down. She has been tortured and is asked to write down secrets that will betray her country in the war effort. She knows at the end of the two weeks she will be executed. And tell her tale she does. Her tale is a harrowing tale of a woman trying to make her way in a world that is still very much a man’s world and yet, she is drawn in to a variety of events that make her an essential player in World War II. As the words spill from the nub of her pencil onto the page you learn about courage, camaraderie and, most of all, verity – truth. Truth is an elusive concept. Truth has layers. And this tale has layers, many rich ones.
This is also a great tale of friendship. There is no romance, no love triangle, no swooning. Ah but what there is a love so rich and deep and real; a satisfying love of two friends that must face losses we can never imagine until we experience them. This is a true, deep, abiding love; the sisterhood that comes when two people come together in unimaginable circumstances and face the world head on with each other to lend support. They are heroines in every sense of the word, but most of all in their undying sisterhood.
As the first part of the tale ends you, as a reader, are drawn into another tale and get to experience the other part of the story. The two tales come rushing together in a jaw dropping climax. In a moment, your heart shatters. You gasp. And like all good stories, you find yourself thinking what you would do in the same situation. Here is the hallmark of good storytelling: you care, you think about it, you reflect. Long after you turn the last page, you keep thinking about this story.
Code Name Verity is a tale told during a time when women were just entering into war and the world still didn’t know what to do with them. And yet our two main characters are amazing examples of strong, complex, often confident women. These are girls you know you would want to be friends with in real life. Or that you would admire from afar. These are good role models that I would enthusiastically introduce my teen readers to.
Code Name Verity is a complex story. It twists and turns and you often don’t know what to think. The tale is a winding journey. For a long portion of the story you are not even sure who, exactly, is telling this tale. But it very slowly, very deliberately unfolds on the page and sucks you in. The very deliberate way in which Wein weaves the details of this story together, similar to the scarf that changes hands in the story, is a testament to the ability of this author. Every nuance has meaning. Every moment a revelation, not always in the moment but eventually. Storytelling is an art and Wein proves herself a master artisan.
Code Name Verity receives 5 out of 5 stars and is highly recommended. I know, I’m just as surprised as you are. To be honest, my exact words upon finishing this book were, “holy smokes people”. That is sophisticated professional reviewer speak for you have to read this book right now. You’ll just have to trust me on that one. I know I have told you very little of the story, but it does take place during World War II and our narrator is a prisoner so there are some references to torture.
Stephanie also gives Code Name Verity 5 stars saying, “It completely caught me off guard and I loved it. I cried. It was so me and my best friend. Beautiful.”
Have you read Code Name Verity? Tell us what you thought about it in the comments. What other historical fiction titles does you love?
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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