I’ve been an Elizabeth Wein fan for long enough that when I heard about Code Name Verity, I knew I was going to be buying it. And when I heard that it was being published in February in the UK and May in the US, I knew I was going to be buying it from the UK. Which I did, and it came Saturday night and I wasn’t going to read it, but then I started and literally didn’t put it down, including when I was unloading and loading the dishwasher, until I was done.
And then I spent the next hour sobbing. No joke. Because this book is beautiful and compelling and absolutely devastating.
Most of what I want to say about this book, I can’t, because it would be too spoilery and this is a story where spoilers matter. But here are a few thoughts.
In the immediate aftermath of the story, the barrier between fiction and reality was completely gone. I mean, I often cry over stories. I cried over The Fault in Our Stars, because I’m not an inhuman robot. But–well, remember my reviewish thing of that? One of my main points was that Hazel and Gus’s Indianapolis is not mine. Even with books that have entered deep into me, I remember they’re fiction. I might pretend they’re not, especially while I’m reading them, but that whole time, I’m really aware that the characters and the places aren’t real. When I read Code Name Verity, that wasn’t true. I completely and utterly believed in Maddie and Verity*, and in their relationship and in the secondary characters.
And I loved that the central relationship in the story, the axis around which everything pivots, is the friendship between Maddie and Verity. It’s so wonderful and different to read a YA book in which the focus is not on romance, but on female friendship, and wonderful to see such a believable relationship between the two girls. I love the line about not believing that they never would have met–it sounds like something from a romance novel, but it’s true here. It helps, I suppose that my sister is my best friend and so I believe the way they interact, the fact that they’re closer than family in some ways.
The other key thing for me is that most recent World War II fiction, especially for young adults, seems to shy away a bit from the reasons the war was actually fought. (Even Connie Willis’s books, which I love despite the fact that I hear there are some inaccuracies, do this.) Code Name Verity doesn’t. Both Maddie and Verity are always aware of the reasons they’re fighting. Verity has to be. And yes, there were some scenes that were stomach-churning and I didn’t want to read them–not because they were described in detail, but almost because they weren’t. But I think this book is hard and at the same time (I don’t know how else to say it) necessary.
Although Wein looks unflinchingly at the real evils of the Nazi regime–not only for Jewish or other obviously persecuted groups, but for everyone involved–her German characters are never stereotypes. At the very beginning of the book, they might seem to be, but over the course of the story they prove to be real people. They are complex and contradictory, always on the verge of being sympathetic, but never smoothed over. And it strikes me that this is exactly how they should be, and how they so seldom are portrayed in fiction.
Also, Elizabeth Wein constructs this narrative in an absolutely genius way. I realized while I was reading that something was up with Verity’s story, but I couldn’t figure out quite what. I had theories, but none of them were right, so I won’t even bother mentioning them, besides the SPOILERS. But I’m just in awe of the writing chops involved in this book. I would go back and re-read it right now, to try and work some of it out, except that I know I couldn’t handle it at the moment.
And it’s a book that’s going to stick with me. I could tell that when I went on the worst book-induced crying fit since reading A Tale of Two Cities when I was 13. Even more than that, it’s the way I’ve been thinking about it constantly since then–not the awful bits, but the bits about Verity and Maddie. And individual lines–we make a sensational team; Kiss me, Hardy; I have told the truth (Saturday night I had almost stopped crying and then I had to put the book away and I saw the tagline on the front and started crying again). I was so close to the characters that they didn’t seem to be either historical or fiction. And that, my friends, is a good book.
* This might be very slightly spoilerly, so look away if you want: I don’t know what to call Verity, because I feel like giving her her real name is honoring her somehow, but the moment when her name is revealed is so powerful that I don’t want to spoil that either.