Author: Elizabeth Wein
Published: February 6h 2012
Publisher: Electric Monkey
Paperback, 452 pages
Reviewing this book feels much like walking through a minefield. (Not that I know what that feels like, but I can imagine, you know.) On the one hand, I can’t reveal too much of the plot. I can’t reveal almost anything, really, lest I ruin the experience for you guys. On the other hand, I have to write just enough to make you want to pick this book up because it’s one you don’t want to miss. Trust me. I suppose I could just point you to Maggie Stiefvater’s wonderful review and leave it to her to convince you, but I’m not that much of a coward. *coughs* I just did that! *coughs*
So here goes nothing…
I don’t normally read historical fiction unless it’s highly recommended. Code Name Verity was, directly or indirectly, recommended to me by two of my trusted friends, Chachic and Jo, and, as I already mentioned, my favorite young adult author Maggie Stiefvater. And of course they were right.
Code Name Verity is a story about two best friends, Maddie and Queenie, fighting in World War II. They probably never would have met in peacetime, as they come from entirely different circles of society: Queenie is Scottish royalty who grew up in a castle, while Maddie is a bike shop owner’s granddaughter. That didn’t stop them from becoming best friends while serving together in WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), and staying close even when the war took them in different directions.
All Maddie ever wanted was to fly airplanes. She was in training before the war and when the war started, she waited patiently for them to accept female pilots, which eventually they did. Queenie’s talents lie elsewhere: she is fluent in both German and French and able to momentarily slip into any role, be herself one second, and someone entirely different the next. Although these two have very little in common on the surface, deep down they are both incredibly strong, intelligent and compassionate women.
But for me, the most fascinating character was Queenie’s capturer, Hauptsturmfürer von Linden. He starts as pure evil, of course, but as the story progresses, we are offered small details of his life that give him an entirely different face, one that is complex and multi-layered and that causes the reader to be just as conflicted as Queenie.
I don’t know what I expected, but he just looked like anybody - like the sort of chap who would come into the shop and buy a motorbike for his lad’s 16th birthday – like your headmaster.
Our story starts when Queenie gets captured by the Gestapo in France. Upon breaking her with torture and turning her into a collaborator, von Linden allows her to write down the events that led her to his cruel hands, and her written testimony is what we are given.
The narrative itself takes some getting used to. Queenie tells her present story in first person, but switches to third person and focuses on Maddie every time she talks about the past. It was a little strange at first, having the narrator talk about herself in third person, but I soon realized that it was an excellent way for Wein to help her readers adapt to constant alternations between the past and the present.
Every once in a while you know that you’ve stumbled upon a classic. Code Name Verity might have been published earlier this year, but there is no doubt in my mind that it will endure the test of time. It has the weight (although not quite the genius) of The Book Thief. I'm sure it will receive awards and critical acclaim.