Code Name Verity
Code Name Verity was on the shelf of recommended reads at my most-frequented library, so I picked it up thinking that I don’t read enough YA. The novel tells the story of two girls and their unlikely bond forged in wartime England during World War II. Maddie is a woman pilot. “Queenie,” as her best friend is called, has a much more mysterious job.
The book begins in diary-like entries penned by Queenie, describing their friendship up to the night Maddie delivered her to occupied France and her plane went down. Queenie, the reader learns, is being held and tortured in France and these are in fact passages she’s writing for the head interrogator as a way to avoid further torture. She’s “selling her soul,” she writes, by giving the Nazis bits of wireless code and information on airfields. She’s also buying herself time.
Author Elizabeth Wein does great things with perspective and information here. What Queenie, a non-pilot, knows about planes, for example, is limited. But she is imaginative in her descriptions, and her tandem flights with Maddie are some of the loveliest sequences in the book. The further Queenie gets into her tale of friendship and survival, the higher the stakes, as it becomes apparent that she soon will be shipped to a camp for experimentation and execution.
I read the last 200 or so pages of this book in a rush, because I had to find out how it ended. It unfolds brilliantly, with carefully plotted reveals (especially as Queenie doles out information to her captors bit by bit), and the friendship shared by Queenie and Maddie is sweet enough to make you weep. (There may have been a few tears shed by the time I closed the book.) I don’t pick up a lot of historical fiction, but in this case the setting of wartime England, with high suspicions, rationed food, and women’s work often seen as secondary, was multifaceted and vibrant. Wein really makes history come alive in this book (despite making up several town names, locations, and details of the characters’ work), and the illusion of reality was strong all along. I suspected nothing. A pilot herself, all of the flying sequences Wein described were written dreamily–coming out of the pages, one can tell the author is passionate about being in the sky.
I highly recommend Code Name Verity, and I think the reading experience will make me eager to try other historical fiction novels.