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Saturday, June 16, 2012

YA WWII Novel Unique—In A Good Way

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

There are two things books about World War II usually aren't:  snarky and upbeat.  Code Name Verity, a YA novel by Elizabeth Wein, happens to be both.  Maybe that's why it's such a different kind of read, one that's affecting and grim, but still almost funny.  You don't see that a lot—actually, you never see that—in stories about this time period.  Code Name Verity is unique and that's why I liked it.

The first half of the story is narrated by a young Scottish woman, whose ability to speak German makes her a perfect spy for England.  When the novel opens "Verity" has been captured by the Gestapo and is being held for questioning in Ormaie, France.  The Nazis have made it clear that if she does not reveal the nature of her mission, she will be executed.  After she's beaten and tortured, of course.  Given scraps of paper on which to write out her confession, Verity takes her time, spinning out tales like Scheherazade.  Since the SS officer in charge appreciates a good story, she gives him one.  As she writes about espionage, friendship, courage and cowardice, Verity fights for her life, one word at a time.   

Margaret "Maddie" Brodatt tells the second part of the story.  An English pilot, Maddie is used to making secret flights into enemy territory.  She's flown her friend Verity several times, always without incident.  Until now.  Now, Verity has been captured and Maddie's hiding out in a leaky barn in Nazi-held France.  Scribbling her own notes, Maddie talks about her childhood, her lifelong desire to fly airplanes, her friendship with Verity, her fears of being courtmartialed—or, even worse, being captured like Verity.  Although she doesn't practice her religion, Maddie's Jewish ancestry could still land her in a Nazi death camp.

As the two women write their histories, a remarkable story emerges—one of adventure, one of bravery, one of hope and one of friendship that transcends the horrors of war.

Although Code Name Verity is being promoted as a YA book, I don't see it appealing to teens really.  Not that it lacks action or intriguing characters or even a sarcastic, foul-mouthed narrator—it has all that.  But it's still kind of an old-fashioned book.  Action-packed and absorbing and entertaining, for sure, just in a vintage kind of way.  Does that make any sense?  Probably not.  No matter.  Suffice it to say, I enjoyed this unique and powerful WWII novel.  It's different—in the very best kind of way.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a bit of Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder invectives), violence/scenes of peril, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Code Name Verity from the generous folks at Hyperion.  Thank you!



  1. I agree. I thought it was a hard book to read. Took effort. Not sure teens will be up for that... great review!

    1. Yeah, I'm really not sure why the book is considered a teen novel. The heroines are older and the story's really not YA-ish at all. Weird.

  2. Hmmm, a book that's for YA that probably won't appeal to them. Lucky for the author most people reading YA aren't YA, right? ;)

    I've seen this one getting some good reviews so I'm going to have to give it a go...someday. Book overload!

    1. Yeah, I really don't understand why it's YA. Who knows?

  3. Do you think this one deserves all the buzz it's been getting? I liked it a lot, but not sure it was on the LOVE level.

    1. I felt the same way that you did -- I really liked the book, but I didn't LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. I think it's getting so much buzz because it's different than other WWII books. That's what I liked about it. It's unique not just in subject matter, but also in tone. For that reason, yeah, I think it deserves the buzz.

  4. I'd heard it was YA, too, but obviously that doesn't matter to me much because I already have my copy bought and set aside for my camping trip. You've made me really excited about it, since I've read a lot of WWII books, but never one that was snarky and almost funny. Can't wait!

    1. I'll be interested to see what you think of it. It really IS different than other WWII books, mostly because of the tone. Can't wait to hear your thoughts!

  5. I'm reading The House at Tyneford right now so I am full-on "IN" the WWII mode. We'll see if I'm up for this one when I finish. Great review though. I especially appreciated your honesty in how they are marketing the book. It's probably one of those books that's too young for regular fiction and too old for other words, just about MY age!!

    If you want a good WWII book - try The House of Tyneford. I am LOVING the writing.

    Hope you stayed cool today. I am grateful for A/C :)

    1. I've been hearing lots of good things about THE HOUSE OF TYNEFORD. I'll have to stick it on hold at the library.

      Oh, and I always find it difficult to read two WWII books in a row. The subject matter is just so tense and difficult that I have to read something lighter in between, you know?

      Thankful for A/C, too. Have you seen the weather forecast for this week? Yikes!


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