Release Date: February 6th 2012
Publisher: Random House Canada
Buy It: Book Depository
Two young women are thrown together during World War II: one a working-class girl from Manchester, the other a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a wireless operator. Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly and before long become devoted friends. But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in "Verity's" own words, as she writes her account for her captors.At first, this came across as another one of those cases, like Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay, where the person telling the story couldn't possibly know all the details she is sharing about another person's life. But as the story unfolded, and the explanations made it believable, and I was glad not to have that aspect preventing me from fully enjoying this heart-breaking and powerful story of friendship. In fact, I actually ended up enjoying the unreliability of the narrator, something that can be wonderful when it's done well, like in Code Name Verity and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.
Every once in awhile I come across a discussion with somebody looking for a young adult novel without romance, and it always feels near-impossible to come up with one. Then, recently, I read Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard, and now Code Name Verity. Although set decades apart and completely dissimilar, both novels are about friendship, not lust, and provide a refreshing reminder that sometimes teenagers think about different things; especially in a time of war. The friendship between the two girls in Wein's novel has an added element of danger because of the time period; in fact, when the story begins, one of them has already been captured as a prisoner of war, but it's also the kind of friendship that is universal, the kind of profound relationship that happens when two people just connect, the kind of bond that can last a lifetime (and often does).
My only problem with Code Name Verity is that, perhaps because of its epistolary format (the entire thing has been written down, starting with Verity in prison), sometimes it became too much a narrative and too little actual interaction between characters. As a result, I found it dragged, simply because I was waiting for something to happen, especially in the beginning. My other minor complaint is the very ending of the novel, which is written by a character that hadn't been important at all, and so felt a bit jarring and unnecessary in a way.
That said, I absolutely adored the way that Wein wrote this historical novel. By that, I mean, it's filled with interesting details, most of which have stories behind them (and she lets the reader in on a few in the author's note). Code Name Verity not only brings the time period to life, but also the feelings of the characters. These two girls were irrevocably tied to when the book took place, it didn't seem like Wein just took contemporary characters and threw them into the past. But also, the reader really gets insight into their emotions and feelings, things like what it would be like to be a woman with a passion for something that women weren't supposed to do (flying). In combination, these facts make Code Name Verity succeed both as historical fiction, but also as a story.
Overall, Code Name Verity was a fantastic and rich read, a refreshing break from boy-crazy girls and instead having main characters who have things that are a lot more life-threatening than romance to worry about. There were lots of great twists and turns to keep the reader engaged. Though it did have a slow start as well as a few other portions I was tempted to skim, I was glad I didn't because in the end everything tied together in an emotional and absolutely heart-breaking way. In the end, Wein's novel is well-researched and well-written; Code Name Verity is a powerful story of friendship from an insightful and unique perspective.