Tuesday, December 2, 2014

#61 [2014/CBR5] "Code Name Verity" by Elizabeth Wein

I've had Code Name Verity (2012) by Elizabeth Wein in my library queue for months. I think at least twice it came up, but I either forgot to check it out in time or ran out of time to read it. Part of the problem was I couldn't remember why I'd chosen to read it. I vaguely remembered that it was a young adult novel set during World War II that had something to do with women spies. I was imagining some kind of Disney-fied adventure with caricatured heroines running amok about the countryside. It wasn't a book that I was looking forward to reading. But when I finally began, I realized I could not have been more wrong.

"Verity" has been arrested by the Gestapo in a small town in occupied France. After being tortured, Verity agrees to tell the Commander everything she knows about the British war effort in exchange for her clothes and some time. Her written "confession" makes up the majority of the book and begins with, "I AM A COWARD." Verity goes into great detail about the happenings in jail as well as her time as an officer in the WAAF [Women's Auxiliary Air Force]. Her story centers around a female pilot named Maddie and their relationship. It is through Maddie's story that Verity has knowledge of various airplanes and bases used throughout Britain. The two become great friends and great partners, both excelling at different things and complementing each other when they work together.

This book reminded me at first of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, both because of the epistolary form of the writing, as well as the tone of the story. This book came across as much more mature than a young adult novel. Verity survives and recounts death, torture, and other tragedies, but her sarcastic wit and lack of self pity are heartening, keeping the story from getting too difficult to read and making us fall in love with her. The fact that Verity begins the story completely helpless and locked in prison ratchets up the tension and kept me reading

Code Name Verity passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. After reading so many young adult Dystopian novels with the cursed love triangle, it was incredibly refreshing to read a book centered on the relationship of two women. There are certainly men in the book, and some are incredible and heroic [such as Verity's Scottish brother, Jamie :) ], but they are not a large part of the story. I also appreciated that Verity and Maddie are brave and courageous, but not in necessarily the same way that men often are. Verity and Maddie first bond while talking about their fears. Verity is afraid of heights and Maddie panics when being fired on, but they push past these fears to accomplish remarkable things. Their relationship is one of the sweetest and most moving I have read in a long time. I could easily call this one the best novels I've read all year.

I'm not sure if I'd really call this a spoiler, but this novel broke me. It tore me from the inside out. I wanted to cry through much of this book and sobbed through the last quarter. I finished it this morning and I tear up just thinking about it.

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