Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Code Name Verity

Oh, faithful readers. Are you in for a ride with Code Name Verity. Elizabeth Wein crafts a tale that sucks you in, keeps you turning the pages, makes you shudder with horror, and causes a tear (or two ... or maybe more than that) to fall.

Two young women, Maddie and her friend, given the name Verity, work for the British military during WWII. Maddie is a pilot, and Verity is in intelligence. When a plane Maddie pilots goes down, the girls suffer different fates. Verity narrates the first part of the book, and with her we begin the race for survival.

Verity is a character you will not forget any time soon. She writes with passion, fear, nostalgia, love and even humor. Captured by the Nazis, she is ordered to divulge as much intelligence as she can, from information about planes to locations to plans. She complies, knowing that she's dead whether she cooperates or not. But she is not straightforward; she gives the Nazis what they want, but she does it her way. As she parses out information, she also tells her and Maddie's stories, beginning with their first meeting, leading up to the fated crash.

The two girls are vastly different: Maddie is from a working class background, while Verity is a member of the Scottish gentry. Whereas Maddie is interested in machinery and airplanes, Verity "needed a chaneg of scene. Perhaps a few weeks on the Continent, where she could put her sangfroid and multiple languages and wireless operator's skills to much-needed use in Nazi-occupied France. It seemed like a good idea at the time."

As Verity, whom her Nazi captor refers to as "little Scheherazade," tells her tale, she also brings us very much into the present. We see her fears over her imminent execution. Swallowing kerosene? Firing squad? How will it happen? She is frightened, we definitely see that, but she's also practical, observing that "though my success at staying alive for so long would carry more weight if I'd actually managed to set up a radio before I was caught. Now I really am living on borrowed time. Not much more to tell." But she knows what's coming:

After my second escape attempt, while they were waiting for von Loewe to turn up and pronounce punishment, a couple of his stupid subordinates casually blabbed a great many administrative secrets in front of me, not realizing I understand German. So I know a lot more about their plans for me than I'm supposed to know. I fall under a sickening policy called Nacht und Nebel, Night and Fog, which allows them to do whatever the hell they feel like to people suspected to be "endangering security," and then make them disappear - really disappear. They don't execute them here; they ship them off without leaving a trace, into the "night and fog." Oh, God - I am a Night and Fog prisoner.
 The second half of the book continues Maddie and Verity's stories. We find out what happens to each girl, and it is chilling. Wein spares us nothing, not their anguish or fear or guilt. If anything, she can be accused of telling too much. Many pages are devoted to Maddie and Verity's early days together, and not all of it is necessary to the rest of the book. We know that the two are close friends. That was established effectively using far fewer pages.

Still, to complain about that is to deny us Verity's voice, which is extraordinary. She is the type of person you want as a best friend: witty, intelligent, and loyal.

Code Name Verity is for teenagers and adults alike. Wein's story is fierce and brutal, and you do yourself a disservice if you do not read it.

Published by Hyperion and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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