Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

  • Title: Code Name Verity
  • Author: Elizabeth Wein
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
  • Year Published: 2012
  • ISBN: 1423152883
  • List Price: $16.99
  • Page Count: 352
  • Age Range: 13+
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Award(s): Printz Honor Book, Boston Globe/Horn Book Awards Honor Book, Golden Kite Award Honor Book, Shortlisted for the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Award

Author information: Wein has written many books for young adults, but until Code Name Verity, her YA books were set in Arthurian England. Her website can be found here, and it includes biographical information, tour and appearance dates, bibliographic information, and a link to her blog that talks about her work and her daily life. Huffington Post conducted an interview with Wein in which she discusses her process of writing Code Name Verity, books that have inspired her work, and upcoming projects.

Reviews: Code Name Verity is one of only six books in 2012 that received starred reviews from all six major publications for youth (The Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books), Kirkus called it “unforgettable and wrenching”, and all the reviews highlighted the strong narrative voice and the compelling, twisting plot that keeps readers engaged.

Readers annotation: A plane crashes over Nazi-occupied Germany. Two best friends are inside. Can they survive?

Summary: “Verity” (real name Julie) is an Allied spy who is captured by Nazis when her plane crashes in Germany. Her Nazi captors force her to write her story to reveal important military secrets, so she writes about her past, from meeting and befriending a female pilot named Maddie, to the events that led her to the Nazis. Interwoven with this story of the past is the story of what is happening to her as a prisoner of the Nazis, who threaten and torture her. The second half of the novel is told by Julie’s best friend Maddie, who was also with her in the plane when it crashed. Maddie tries to save Julie from prison, and it is quickly revealed that much of Julie’s written confession in the first half of the novel is full of lies to trick the Nazis. Maddie’s attempts at rescue take a torturous turn at the end of the novel when, in order to spare Julie from further torture, she honors her request for death by shooting her.

Evaluation: From the first sentence of this book (“I am a coward.”), I was hooked. The narrative voice of the first half of the novel is believable and sympathetic, alternating between raw confessions of Julie’s personal failings, tortured confessions of military secrets, and musings on her life before the war. The complexity of Julie’s character only deepens in the second half of the novel when the reader realizes that most of what she said was untrue. Readers will find themselves invested in Julie and Maddie as if they were real people, not just characters in a novel. The historical detail enriches the novel and makes the setting come alive, and the themes explored in the book linger long after it has reached its conclusion.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 5/5 The plotline is compelling and the narrative voice is stunning. Both Julie and Maddie are fully realized characters who the reader will fall in love with, and the prose will make readers want to pick this book up and reread it many times.
  • Popularity4/5  It pains me to give this anything less than the 5 I feel it so rightly deserves, but as much as it will captivate any reader who picks it up, it may not appeal to some male readers due to the fact that both protagonists are female.
  • Appeal factors: Dual narrators, blurred lines between truth and lies and hero and villain, and girls flying planes and just generally being bada$$ are all strong draws that make this a book you don’t want to put down.

Read-alikes: 

  1. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak would be a good fit for readers who enjoyed the WWII setting and the unique narrative perspective. The Book Thief, narrated by Death, follows a complex female character that may appeal to readers who loved Maddie and Julie.
  2.  Readers who want another title that deals with the horrors of war as well as the theme of honesty and lies may like Patricia McCormick’s Never Fall Down. This novel is based on a true story and looks at the Cambodian genocide, so could be a good recommendation for readers with a more serious bent.

Book talk ideas: It’s very hard to improve upon the copy written on the cover of this book (see reason for reading section below), so lead with that. Emphasize the themes of friendship, sacrifice, and truth, and what those might mean in a context where human life is on the line.  Potentially include an excerpt (maybe of Julie’s list of things she’s afraid of) to give potential readers an idea of the narrative voice and draw them in.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  • “I have told the truth.” How much of Julie’s story do you believe? Maddie’s?
  • How did the shift between narrators enhance the book? How would it have been different if the story had only been told by one of the girls?
  • Is Anna Engel a hero or a villain? Somewhere in between?
  • Were you satisfied with the way the book ended?

Reason for reading: I really enjoy reading about World War II, whether in a fiction or non-fiction capacity. I think the entire range of the human experience can be found in WWII, from the greatest stories of triumph to depictions of the basest, cruelest parts of human nature. Because I’ve read quite a bit in this genre, I was very interested in the perspective this book offered–two young, female protagonists who took an active role in the war against Germany. Plus, it’s difficult to turn away from a book with jacket copy like this: Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

Additional relevant information: Wein has her pilot’s license, which is one reason why Maddie’s experience is so believable. Wein is following Code Name Verity with the recently released Rose Under Fire, which is also about a female flyer in WWII. She is captured by Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. The character of Maddie is revisited in this novel, and the book received positive reviews.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s