on 14 March 2012
I love stories told in two parts, from different narrative viewpoints, and that is just one of many many things to love about this book. The first half is told by 'Verity', a captured female spy being interrogated by the Gestapo in a former hotel in France. She begin her story with the words, 'I am a coward,' but you don't have to read much further before you realise this simply isn't true.
Tortured, threatened and terrified, Verity proves her courage again and again. Under the cover of writing a confession for her captors, she tells the story of how she came to be a spy, how she met her best friend, Maddie ('It's like falling in love, finding your best friend') and how the pair of them came to be in France.
'We're a sensational team', Verity tells us. It's this friendship that drives the story, as we try to piece together the clues in Verity's confession - being made in extremis - to get at the exact truth of what happened to the sensational team.
Elizabeth Wein lays many excellent traps for the reader along the way; expect to have your heart in your mouth a lot of the time. Is Verity really betraying her country (Scotland, not England)? Is she going to die? Is her best friend already dead, or in terrible danger? Will the two young women ever see one another again?
Midway through, the story switches to Maddie's voice. This is the tricky point at which an author can lose a reader, especially one who's fallen in love, the way she helps us fall in love with Verity. But it only takes a couple of pages for us to love Maddie, too, and to marvel at how distinctly different her voice is to Verity's.
These women are *alive*. They leap off the page and grip you by the hand, and then the heart. You desperately want them to have a happy ending, but at the same time you sense it would be cheating, or lying, to arrive at this after the harrowing and entirely believable scenes which have unfolded.
To move the reader without resorting to sentiment. To arrive at an ending that is both honest and uplifting. To make you think afresh about a part of history you thought you knew. To transport you, for the time it takes to read the book, to a different time and another world, while showing you so clearly *why* these stories matter and how they can resonate. These are proofs positive of a gifted, compassionate and generous author.
I doubt I'll read a better book this year.
on 28 July 2012
This book caught my interest a while ago in the bookshop, but I was unable to purchase it. This was very disappointing, but I forgot about it after a while, because of other books that were available. However, I was thrilled to see that it had come to my local library last weekend! I immediately added it to my pile, and checked it out.
Code Name Verity tells a story set in the War of 'Queenie' and her best friend Maddie - however, it tells this story via Queenie's confession notes, for she has been captured by the Gestapo, and must spill everything she knows about Britain's war efforts, else there'll be disastrous consequences for her. Of course, she writes down everything she knows and remembers, all the while hating herself for it. Through these notes, we get a feel for how the War must have been from a view point that is often forgotten about - women pilots. Although I have not the slightest clue about piloting, I still found the plane parts very good. Queenie focuses her confession around her best friend Maddie, a brilliant pilot. Her story is moving, exciting, and I just couldn't put it down. The twists at the end (when it turns to Maddie's viewpoint) caught me totally by surprise, and I loved it.
This story captured my interest from Page 1, and has a place high up on my rankings of 'Best Books'. It was refreshing to read from an unusual view point. The thing I loved most about the book though, was how it made you think and question everything. War, Queenie, even the planes. I loved it, and would recommend it to anyone wanting a unique YA read!
on 31 July 2012
I enjoyed this book so much that, having just finished it, I have gone right back to the beginning and started reading it again! The book is based on the exploits of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) and the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) during WWII and it focuses on two very different young ladies who come together through their work quite early in the war. As the war progresses, their friendship develops and they find themselves heading to France - and into danger. Within days one of the friends has been arrested by the Gestapo and the other is in hiding in the roof space of a French farm house, unable to return to England as her plane has been destroyed.
I don't want to give away too much of the plot as this really is a very exciting book. I like the way the narrative is split between the two main characters. The SOE agent (let's call her "Queenie") starts the story and when she is unable to continue, Maddie, the ATA pilot takes over. Their voices are very different, reflecting their different upbringing and educational background, but their dedication to their country and to each other comes through loud and clear. This is a great adventure story, but it is also a story about the effects of the war on the lives of everyday people and how sometimes doing the right thing can take great courage and can also break your heart.
Verity was sent to France as a spy but ended up captured by the Gestapo, after weeks of torture she finally broke and agreed to tell them what she knew of the British War Effort. Her story starts with the pilot who flew her to France - her close friend Maddie. Verity tells the tale of how she and Maddie became unlikely friends and the events that led to her own capture.
Code Name Verity is a heart-breaking tale of two incredibly strong women and the part they both played in the war effort. I have to admit that it took me a while to warm to Verity, it takes a long time before we even learn her name and I found the way the writing style kept switching from first to third person was confusing. The fact that Verity focuses on telling Maddie's story meant that I felt much more connected to the character that we'd never met than I did to the one who was telling the story. Having said that once I got used to the writing style I found that I had to keep reading because I needed to know how things would turn out. I grew to really feel for Verity, she suffers from horrific torture but remained strong, loyal and despite the fact she was terrified she still found small ways to be defiant.
The friendship between Verity and Maddie is a beautiful thing to watch and I really enjoyed reading a story with such strong female characters. Although they both have very different jobs they are both in occupations that were dominated by men, they had to work twice as hard to be considered equals and often found they were passed over for jobs that were given to less qualified male colleagues. The chances are that they would never have met if it hadn't been for the war, Verity is an upper class girl who was brought up in a Scottish castle while Maddie is from a working class family in Stockport so it would have been unlikely their paths would have crossed. In a lot of ways they are complete opposites but they have a strong bond that nothing will break.
While fictional the story has an authentic feel to it that just makes it even more heart wrenching to read. It gives a real insight into some of the roles women had during WW2 and makes for fascinating reading. I'd definitely recommend the story to anyone with an interest in history but also if you want to read a story with strong female role models. One thing I would suggest is keeping a box of tissues to hand thought because you'll definitely need them by the end of the book. This is the first book I've read by Elizabeth Wein but it definitely won't be the last.
on 30 June 2012
I am sad because I know that whatever I put in this review will not do Code Name Verity justice. I just cannot tell you in words how amazing I think this book is. It is hard for me to write about this book, if I say too much I will give stuff away and it will ruin the book for others. (Careless talk costs lives) It is that kind of book. It manages to keep surprising you and shocking you. You think you know what is happening but the truth is that you know nothing at all.
I had my doubts when I received Code Name Verity for review. I thought a World War two, YA book about spies would be boring, unbelievable and a waste of time. But I had heard so much about it that I just had to give it a go.
I started it and thought it was pretty good, better than I thought it would be then somewhere along the way I found myself falling in love with it. Because somehow this book just seemed to do everything right.
It was written beautifully and was more accomplished than a lot of Young Adult books. Every character is fleshed out and real. I think I loved every one of them, to some extent even the villains just because they were so...human. This isn't a story of good versus evil, this is a story of life during war and it manages to show both sides of the story.
The main characters Maddy and Queenie are just so amazing. I loved their strength and their frailty, I loved their stiff upper lip and their personality, but most of all I loved their friendship. It is just the best and most beautiful friendship ever. I hope that if it ever came to it I would have the courage they showed. At the end of the day these are girls that you wish you could be like. They are funny, brave, smart and they do the right thing no matter what. Yet they never come across as perfect, or arrogant, or as Mary Sues.
The story itself was engaging and nail-biting. It twisted in directions I could have never imagined and it manages to keep you on your toes. The research that must have gone into this is mind-boggling; it was just so informative and rich with facts. It was smarter than it had any right to be.
I should warn you that you may need tissues (I certainly did).
There is not much else I can say about the book without spoiling it. So, I will just say that even if you are unsure, even if you do not read YA give this book a shot. There is no real reason why this book is for Young Adults. In fact it is incredibly adult so please, please, please do not be put off by the YA label.
I honestly just cannot tell you how wonderful this book is, and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.
Set during World War II this is a unique and imaginative Young Adult read. Verity and her friend Maddie are close friends. It's unlikely that without the War their paths would have crossed, coming from such different backgrounds, but War has brought them together.
The story opens with Verity being interrogated by the Gestapo, she's been captured and tortured, and is about to spill the secrets of the Allied Forces. Verity chooses to write her confession down, in detail, and it is in this confession that we learn about her dear friend Maddie - how they met, became friends, and how Verity finds herself just where she is now.
Despite not even knowing Verity's name for some time, and not even meeting Maddie during the story - these are two warm and realistic characters. So very different; a rich girl from Scotland and a working-class Stockport lass, but united in their strong friendship and in their battle to prove themselves in what is very much a man's world.
There are some heart-breaking scenes within this story, yet there is a sense of tremendous strength of character, and a real insight into active service for women during the War.
Elizabeth Wein has produced a inventive, fascinating and emotional story with strong female lead characters.
I saw this in the Carnegie shortlist a few years ago, but decided not to read it - another war story, I thought, probably a love story. Nothing special.
Could eat those words now. Completely spellbound from the first chapter, I've never seen a narration like it. Yes, it's a war story. But it's written as a series of letters / journal entries from a female British spy, forced out of her by her German captors. Each piece of writing is tortured out of her, to gain information on British codes and plans, and while she writes her story and snippets of information for them, she curses them knowing it will all be translated and read back to them, and she will be punished.
A second voice later offers further narration, and the women's stories are absolutely riveting from start to finish. Our spy, Maddie, is vilified by other prisoners for co-operating, and we see through her own words just what the Germans do to her. Her spirit and endurance are incredible though, and there cannot be a reader out there who picks this up and doesn't will for her to make it out of the hellhole she's in.
To write more would risk spoilers, and there is no way I would want to spoil this unbelievably brilliant story for anyone not yet familiar with it. The connections between parts of the story that Wein draws are cleverly done, with turns popping up and making sense of the unfolding war story. The women are strong and worthy role models, their war experiences horrific and hard to forget.
I enjoyed the author's extra notes at the end, and she include a useful bibliography of sources she used to gain information on women in wartime. This could be a very good choice for KS3/4 classes in English and History, and the unusual narration has a lot to be discussed for classes and book groups (teen and adult).
So sorry I didn't read this sooner, I hope to buy a copy for my library shortly. Highly recommended. Age 13 and above, and adults - read this now!
This is a very hard book to review, because it's best approached when you know next to nothing about the plot. It's very cleverly constructed, one of those books that plays games on the reader and has you re-evaluating what you've read previously when you get to the end of it. And yet somehow, without telling you anything about it, I also have to convey the fact that it's quite wonderful and you must read it! It's officially a young adult novel, but let's face it, much of the most original writing around at the moment is in that genre, and it's an entirely satisfying book for all ages.
Set in 1943, it opens with the confessions of a young woman who has been interrogated by the Gestapo in France. She is English and has recently been smuggled into the country. Initially we know very little about her - not even her name - but gradually she tells us (and the Gestapo) about her background in the WAAF (Womens Auxiliary Air Force) and how she came to know her best friend who was also in the WAAF and who flew the plane that brought her to France. The story is full of little clues about where it's going, which you are fairly oblivious to on the first read, but which become immensely pleasing with hindsight.
The two main characters in the book - Maddie is one and I don't even want to tell you the name of the other, because that's one of the smaller "reveals" in the book - really get under your skin. At one point you realise that something very bad has happened to one of them - and it wrecks you. Wrecks you. They are characters that you care about and worry about and keep thinking about after you've finished the book. Not so long ago I read The Girl Who Fell From The Sky and that's a pleasing counterpoint to this book, dealing with similar situations and places.
on 5 June 2012
It's best to go into this book knowing as little as possible about what happens. To be told even a little of what goes on could ruin the whole experience and so I will try and write some coherent thoughts that don't give away a million plot points.
This was an epistolary novel like no other I have read. Our first protagonist, who I shall not name, is writing letters to her captors, who want to know everything about the British war effort. These letters were written in third person but, throughout, the narrative occasionally changes tack and slips into first person - it was here that we realise all is not exactly well between this woman and the Gestapo holding her, just how much she is suffering at their hands.
It was such an interesting way to start this story. I felt as if I was thrown right in there with her, confused and not knowing what on earth was happening. I loved that Wein didn't feel the need to tell me everything, she let characters do that and just assumed that I would know, 150 pages later, what she was relating to. And I did. It's hard to forget such a book, such a character.
This book was split into two: part one by our mystery spy and part two by the pilot of the story, Maddie. Despite the fact that both sections were written in first person and about two women of a similar age, they had very distinct voices. I find this a rare thing: sometimes the only thing that distinguishes characters voices in my head is everything else that makes up the story. And Maddie's story is no less thrilling than the spy's. It was a joy to read her side of their friendship.
This was a wonderful book, one that was both funny in places and utterly devastating. Keep the tissues beside you. Ignore the fact it seems like the characters are a bit modern, suspend your disbelief at the tolerance of the Gestapo when it comes to the spy writing her letters (and who really knows something like this never happened?) and just enjoy this book for what it is: a story about two marvellous, courageous and beautiful young women who I will never forget.
on 14 May 2012
Now this is going to be a difficult review. It would be absolutely unforgiveable if I gave away or hinted at even one of the enigmas and surprises of this beautifully layered and crafted story.
"Verity" is a British agent, captured in Nazi-occupied France, and has been systematically tortured into giving up the wireless codes she was privy to and absolutely everything she can recall about the Allied war effort. She has been given a reprieve as she writes down her recollections in the form of letters that are taken from her each day and translated for the Gestapo general in charge of her incarceration and torture.
These letters - interspersed with present tense recounting of her treatment at the hands of the Nazis - slowly build up to tell the story of two young women, Maddie and Queenie - the former a member of Scottish landed gentry, the latter a working class Mancunian of Jewish descent. They certainly would never have met had the war effort not pushed them together, but become true and fast friends. Maddie - we know from the off - has died, crashing the plane that Verity parachuted from to arrive in France, but Verity's narrative makes her live again as we learn her story and friendship with Queenie and others.
'Code Name Verity' is one of those clever, clever books that make you want to re-read them immediately. The context of the war and thrilling secret agentry is marvellous, but the heart of the story is the friendship between Maddie and Queenie - and of course, the black humour and desperation of our narrator Verity. As witty and entertaining as Verity is however nothing escapes from the misery of the Gestapo torture, Verity's knowledge that Maddie is dead and once she finishes her damming narrative - replete with wireless and RAF secrets - the best thing that Verity can hope for is death for herself, as the spectre of concentration camps and horrific medical experimentation looms ever closer the closer she gets to the end of her tale.
A funny, sad, wonderful book - totally engrossing. Highly recommended - but read with tissues handy - and whatever you do, don't spoil it for yourself.