Friday, June 27, 2014

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
May 2012 by Hyperion Books
343 pages--Goodreads

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.

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

There was so much hype surrounding this book.  It won a Printz honor.  Many people raved about it and gave it 5-star reviews.  It was on all the recommendation lists for a little while.  And it wasn't bad; I actually quite liked it.  But it is slow.  Very slow.  The ending is fantastic, but you have to be willing to push through the first half of the novel to get there.  I read Code Name Verity using the audiobook, which worked out quite well.  The narration was excellent and it kept me going through the less-engaging first half of the novel.

I loved how well we got to know Julie and Maddie.  This book is sometimes pitched as a spy novel, which is just misleading.  No Bond or Borne here.  This is a book about the friendship between two young women, albeit in rather dangerous circumstances, but the events of WWII take a distant back seat to the women's friendship.  And I honestly don't remember the last time I read a young adult (not middle grade or children's) novel that celebrated love between friends with absolutely no romance whatsoever getting in the way.  Though it was slow, I do appreciate the development of their relationship.

Without being gratuitous, this book is honest in its descriptions of torture, interrogation, and execution.  But with its level of violence and some strong language, it is not a book for younger readers.

This next paragraph is spoilery, so feel free to skip it.  
I can't think of the last time an author has pulled off an unreliable narrator so well.  As I read the second half of the book and realized what Julie had done, I had to keep flipping back to earlier in the novel to see how she had done it (I actually had both a physical copy in addition audiobook).  Suffice it to say, there were many "What the heck!?" moments.  And the best part is Wein tells us from the start that there would be an unreliable narrator.  She says in the first few pages that sabotage is integral to the mission of a captured combatant.  It was sort of like Michael Cane's bookend statements in The Prestige about how you look for the secret but you won't find it because you want to be fooled.  

Code Name Verity is a well-written novel with excellent characters.  It's not as fast or exciting as the hype or description implies, but if you can put in the investment, it is worth it.

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