Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein- Review

When I stop and think about it, it's astounding to me how many really awesome books have come out since January.  2012 may go down as one of the best years for YA lit ever. You think I exaggerate but consider it for a moment, The Fault in Our Stars, Seraphina, The Diviners (I know, I know, I tease, but it'll be out soon!), Scarlet, Black Heart, The Book of Blood and Shadow, Bitterblue. It's been an impressive year and we're only at the half way mark.  Without a doubt Code Name Verity is at the top of the list.

I'm going to break with my standard formatting and not give you the blurb.  Suffice to say it's the story of two young women, their friendship and World War 2.  I'm torn what to say even because part of the joy of this book are the surprises it's full of, and I don't want to ruin that for anyone.

So I'll start at the beginning, seems logical, right?  I was home sick for a week, largely immobilized due to a kidney infection and a possible cracked rib, and so I was ripping through my books at an ungodly pace and requiring a higher than normal standard of quality from them.  They had to potentially keep me occupied for doctors appointments and the constant possibility of hospitalization if I took a turn for the worst. I had heard an endless amount of raving over Code Name Verity and was lucky enough to have scored it from the Disney/Hyperion booth on the second last day at the BEA, so on my way to the hospital for an array of tests and endless uncomfortable waiting in ghastly fluorescent lit hospital "lounges" I grabbed my copy of Code Name Verity.

My very first thoughts were: Blah, blah, blah. This is kind of boring, what was all the fuss about?  Then  I started to slowly fall in love with the story of a budding friendship, and getting caught up in Queenie's predicament.  I was becoming quite captivated when I turned page 203.  And BAM, the story had a part two.  An unexpected, unbelievable twist.  From that moment on I was on the edge of my seat, semi-hysterical with sadness and excitement and general constant surprise.  I'm not sure I've ever been so astounded by a plot twist before.  Suddenly the dry begining had taken on all new meaning and I wanted to double back and read it all over again.

The plot was reason enough to have made this book one of the most impressive of the year for me, but the absolutely astounding relationships and personalities were what blew me away.  One of the most crushing disappointments for me was realizing that Maddie and Queenie were not only totally fictional, but not even inspired by true events or people.  They were so vibrant and alive it still seems impossible they aren't somehow tied to actual history.  I want them to be real more than I've ever wanted any character to be real in my life before.  And I'm not even entirely sure why.  Because they meant so much to me by the end?  Because they were so incredibly heartfelt and amazing?  Or because I want relationships like theirs to actually exist.  One way or another I fell completely in love with them.

Impressively enough, they weren't the only ones I fell for.  Wein populated her sweeping war story with an array of incredible personalities, some good, some bad, and some a little of both, but all of them captivating.  Which is saying something, because in any other story, characters as large and wonderful as Queenie and Maddie would have taken over the narrative leaving all others as mere space fillers.

The story resonated with me, so much, that nearly a week later I still can't stop thinking about it, and I've been having WW2 resistance dreams for nights.  Wein leaves you with so much to think about.  How astounding and freeing it must have been to be a young woman during the War.  How your life would have been about a sub par job, or being a housewife, and now suddenly you could be spy, or an aviator, or radio operator, among so many other exciting and astounding options.  I think back on what it was like when I was 19 and 20 years old, how the world seemed full of opportunities and adventure and how easy it was to throw myself into it.  And I see how it must have felt for these women, but their adventures had awful consequences and brought them into contact with countless horrors, and for them to survive them, and to carry on is an awe inspiring thought.
I want to update my list of "10 Things I Am Afraid Of."
1) Cold. (I've replaced my fear of the dark with Maddie's fear of being cold.  I don't mind the dark now, especially if it's quiet.  Gets boring sometimes.)
2) Falling asleep while working.
3) Bombs dropping on my favourite brother.
4) Kerosene.  Just the word on its own is enough to reduce me to jelly, which everybody knows and makes use of to great effect.
5) SS-Haupststurmfuhrer Amadeus Linden.  Actually he should be at the top of this list (the man blinds me with fear), but I was taking the list in its original order and he has replaced the college porter.
6) Losing my pullover.  I suppose that counts under cold.  But it is something I worry about separately.
7) Being sent to Natzweiler-Struthof.
8) Being sent back to England and having to file a report on What I Did In France.
9) Not being able to finish my story.
10) Also of finishing it.
I am no longer afraid of getting old.  Indeed I can't believe I ever said anything so stupid.  So childish.  So offensive and
But mainly, so very, very stupid.  I desperately want to grow old.
The story is full of thoughts like this, which never occurred to me, but made me stop dead when reading them.  Things that were just so true.
And this terrifies me, and if I never tell anyone my real name perhaps no one will notice, but in addition to all that, I am Jewish.  It is true that I went to a Church of England grammar school and our diet is no in the least bit kosher even in the holidays and Grandad is the only one of us who ever goes to synagogue.  But I am still a Brodatt.  I don't think Hitler will let me off for being godless.
But more than that it was beautiful, full of beautiful gaunt imagery that made it feel so alive and real.  More real than I've ever experienced any WW2 story before, and you have to understand, I'm half Dutch and my Oma and Opa lived through dutch occupation.  I've heard a lot of stories.
I know the Allied Forces are planning a proper invasion of Occupied Europe with tanks and planes and gliders full of commandos, but when I think of France being liberated I picture an avenging army arriving on bicycles.  That is how we all cam into Ormaie on Saturday night, all of us from different directions, all with our baskets and panniers crammed with homemade bombs.  The sirens didn't go till after curfew and we all did a lot of nervous skulking- I bet there was an explosive bicycle behind every single newspaper kiosk in Ormaie-...
We both laughed.  Suppose we were a bit high-keyed up with Bezedrine, rattling through the French countryside in the moonlight, people we love and work with disappearing around us like burnt-out sparklers.  Hard to imagine how dead we'd have been ourselves if we'd met anyone-felt alive and unbeatable.
Don't like to think of her being hunted.  Hope she makes it out of France. 
All in all, Code Name Verity stole my heart and then broke it.  But it did it so profoundly and in such a hauntingly beautiful way, I would do it again.  If only all reading could be such a transcendent experience, of course then I suppose it would lose its meaning.  If you haven't subjected yourself to this heartache, I highly recommend you do.  It is worth every tear you shed, but you know, maybe read the last third in private.  It's always embarrassing to blubber.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
Published by Hyperion, May 15th, 2012.
My copy obtained at the BEA
Buy Code Name Verity on Amazon


  1. I love that line, "Code Name Verity stole my heart and then broke it." It's true. I really was not interested because of the journal writing but I am so happy I pushed through that book. It was absolutely beautiful!

  2. I agree totally. What I don't understand is why this is marketed as a YA book. I think everyone should read it, including YA of course.