Book Review: Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

May 23, 2012 at 5:39 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

It starts with a confession, a game she has no chance of winning. It starts with a war and a horror, a history. It starts with a chance, a crashing plane, a mission, and a changing name. But most of all, it starts with a friendship, one with the power to change the course of everything, a friendship that forms its own courage, its own strength, one that will defy the terrors of a Gestapo cell. Because sometimes, friendship is a code name for hope. Trapped in a nightmare, Verity will have to draw on that friendship to survive the unspeakable horrors that await a captured spy.

I’ll go ahead and give the warning: I can’t help but gush about this one. Days and distance are not helping any in that regard, because I think about all the amazing aspects of this book and I’m just blown away all over again. So there is gushing, and maybe a bit of drooling.

The ages of the characters in this book are somewhat nebulous. You get the distinct impression that’s on purpose, probably because it teeters on the edge between Young Adult and Adult. It really could have gone either way, but I’m so glad it went YA, because the voice- oh my God the voice- is so spectacularly compelling. This is a voice that sucks you in from page one and never lets go, and at no point does it become less than riveting. It’s beyond compelling straight into captivating, and even when you’re breathless and appalled and teary-eyeed, you cannot put this book down. Holy expletive, the voice.

It manages to make even the most horrific things matter-of-fact, not in a blase sense but in the sense that she’s tried very hard to prepare herself for anything. Watching the moments where her composure starts to crack, but you know she’s still thinking and planning and gah! awe. Absolute awe. She’s brutally honest and yet, there’s always this sneaking suspicion that she’s tricking us all sometimes. And sometimes, there’s the suspicion that she’s trying to trick herself. The fate of a captured enemy operative is torture and then death- she never flinches from this. She relates that torture in a way that’s sickening, but not grotesque. It doesn’t back away from details but neither does it dwell on them, as much a part of her experience as the fervent wish for clean clothing.

There is so much that’s going on in this book, and yet it has a single, easily identifiable pillar around which it revolves: friendship. Not a romance, but a friendship as deep and true, perhaps even more so, than a romance in such circumstances could possibly be. How these two very different young women come together under a common cause is both gratifying and hysterical as they compare fears, games, and histories. But they do come together, forging both a friendship and a formidable team, and that frienship sustains them through some truly horrifying trials. It’s more than edifying, it’s transformative. Because of this friendship, their lives could never be the same again. I love that even with the subtle threads of possible romances that crop up from time to time, the central focus is always on that incredible friendship.

I love love LOVE how even the villains are humanized with fears and histories and famlies. That human factor is a little bit terrifying- how can they be okay with doing this to other people’s children?- but so true to life and history. Sympathy for the devil is so hard to write, and even harder to sell to a reader, but it comes off so flawlessly it’s hard not to tear up even for the horrible people. Not are the ‘good’ people all valiant knights in shiny white armor. Just because someone is working for the same side doesn’t make them good, and there are distinct threats and discomforts even among your own people. A lot of this book takes place in the gaps in other stories, in the grey areas between accustomed roles and laws, between war and peace, between hope and death, but it doesn’t just hide in the grey areas, it flourishes in them.

This takes place in such a fascinating period of time, with vast leaps in both technology and the role of women. As men went off to the front lines, women stepped into the necessary duties of farming, civil service, and medicine, but also into the increasingly perilous roles in intelligence and aviation, whihc made for some fantastic opportunities they couldn’t be sure would still exist after the war. Entire auxilliary corps of women rose up to fill those positions and became instrumental to the advances that were made. Many of the radio operators- and nearly all of the first radar operators- were women. We see not only our captive’s work in the shadowy world of intelligence operatives, but also her best friend’s work as an aviatrix, a world of planes when aviation was still fairly young and in rapid development, and female pilots were few and far between and subject to discrimination from nearly every angle. The detail in these worlds, the precision of the story and the locations, is really just mind-boggling. This doesn’t come off as historical fiction, mainly because we never feel that divorced from the story. We feel like we’re there in the middle of things.

Oh, the twists. So many twists, and so wonderfully layered. Some you can expect, if you’re paying attention to the obscure details outside of the story, but they’re still wonderful in how they come to be, and others are wonderfully, devestatingly unexpected. More heart-shattering yet are the ones you’re waiting for, the ones you know will happen but you keep hoping and praying they won’t, and then they do and it’s just staggering.

Despite ALL THE TEARS, I love that this book had the grace, strength, and courage to go for the good ending rather than the happy one (and trust me, that’s not giving anything away; this book doesn’t let you make those kinds of assumptions). I don’t mind a book leaving me with a lingering hope-tinged sorrow if it coems hand in hand with the glorious satisfaction and contentment that comes of finishing an astrounding book.

If this review comes off as seeming light on details, it’s for a reason- I don’t want to deprive you of the discoveries. It is such an amazing book, with characters that live long after the pages end. And you can’t read it just once- as soon as you get to the end, tears streaming down your face, jaw somewhere around your knees with shock, you’ll immediately want to turn back and start it again to watch with more understanding how all of these pieces fit flawlessly, gorgeously together.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, and perhaps ever. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss this one.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, out in stores now.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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