on May 17, 2012
This review is of an ARC received from NetGalley.
There are few books that leave me speechless.
This would be one of them.
I'll admit, I had my reservations in the beginning. The narrator RAMBLES like whoa. I mean, I was reading on a screen and I saw pages taken up by just two paragraphs and I thought "Swell, this is just going and going and I'm going to be bored to tears."
I wasn't. Not by a long shot.
Usually, if the narrator rambles, I get bored and lose interest. Not here. Sometimes I feel like narrators in YA lack a distinct voice, but-again-not here. Verity HAS VOICE. Verity HAS PRESENCE. Despite the fact that she tells her story from Maddie's point of view, talking about herself in the first person, I felt like I was seeing into Verity's soul. There was no doubt in my mind about the voice that was just flying off the pages, talking to my heart. She not only managed to win me over despite rambling, but also despite talking about herself in the third person, which is huge. (The third person thing makes sense later, but I can't say anything about that!)
Plus, I was expecting a pretty dark, dramatic book. It is both of those things, but imagine my surprise when I found myself laughing out loud multiple times while I was reading. While Verity is being held by the Gestapo. I was laughing. That's how spectacular Verity is. That's how strong she is. That's what this book is like.
I'd also like to give a brief shout out on a very touchy subject. Not only is Verity a rounded person, but the German Officer who interrogates her is also a rounded character. He isn't this mindless drone, which I found very refreshing and made the book even more real. It would have been so, so easy to stereotype this guy, but Wein didn't. She MADE IT REAL.
You have no idea how hard it is not to comment on the second half of the book. I literally don't know how to write about that. I'll admit, personally here I found the voice weaker and several things too rushed, but at the same time I can't imagine certain events having differently, not if they still wanted to be real. The ending is very bittersweet, so I suppose my mixed feelings are supposed to be there.
And trust me, all of my feelings are there.
I could get technical. I could. I could talk for ages about the rambling, the technicalities, and the story tangents that don't make sense til the second half of the book. With any other book, I would. But with this one, I just can't. Code Name Verity was just one of those books.
A good book is fun to read. A good book takes you to a new place for a time, but then you put it down and you go on with your life. Code Name Verity was not a good book.
Code Name Verity was a great book.
It was the kind of book with images, words and ideas that get under your skin. The kind of story that melts into your heart. It was an experience that is with you long after you've closed the book. THAT is the kind of story that comes with Code Name Verity.
on August 24, 2012
When you read enough reviews that refuse to talk about the plot, you know there is a twist coming, but the twist ended up being other than what I expected, so thank you previous reviewers.
The VOICE in this book! The voiceS. I was riveted all through the book by how vivid and rich the conversations were. There are 24 highlights in this book, which is about double my usual rate, because I couldn't let phrases like
"You ignorant Quisling bastard, SS-Scharführer Etienne Thibaut, I AM SCOTTISH."
"Oh my sainted aunt! unlimited visibility! unlimited visibility except for the dirty great city in the northwest! That would be the dirty great city surrounded at 3000 feet by a few hundred silver hydrogen balloons as big as buses! How in the name of mud is he going to find Berlin if he can't find Manchester?"
Anyway, it's a war book. It's like many other war books for young readers, about the inhumanity of war and the humanity of the individuals writing it, and how jarring it is to try to understand all that together. I would unhesitatingly give this book to a middle-schooler. There is violence, but it is mostly by reference, and there is fear, the book is thick with it, but each of the main characters makes a list of things she is afraid of, and both of them include Failing Other People. I love books that are about being equally scared of dying and failing.
Fascinatingly, this is an entirely aromantic book. It's like everyone is so busy staying alive/fighting Nazis that they have all the mate-finding and sexual pursuit burned out of them. Except for one creepy handsy character, which I thought was a fascinating and unnecessary inclusion, but it models how to handle someone sexually pushy without becoming completely unhistorical. It makes the book more complicated and richer.
<cite>I suppose all he wanted was a kiss and a cuddle. He backed off looking deeply injured and left me feeling guilty and dirty and prudish all at once.<cite> Yes! That's what it feels like. And we should be saying so.
Read if: You have previously liked Elizabeth Wein books, you read /Escape from Colditz/ obsessively as a child, you wish you were clever and brave. You love stories about unlikely friends who push each other to be better. You like books with extensive bibliographies and references to English literature. (yes, this book was obviously written exactly for me. My point is that it may be exactly for you, too.)
Skip if: historically-accurate references to torture, execution, and the general misery of occupied France are going to be a problem for you.
Also read: Escape from Colditz;: The two classic escape stories: The Colditz story, and Men of Colditz.Rifles for Watie.
Final note: This book is way too absorbing to put down easily. It's not long, but allocate some undisturbed time for it.
on April 19, 2013
Crap, friends. CRAP. This is one of those reviews that I have dreaded writing for a long while. I finished CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein nearly two months ago, and I've just sat down to write my review now. It's hard for me, sometimes, to gather the stones to tell you all that I didn't really like a book that is almost universally adored and that is, sadly, the situation I find myself in now. CODE NAME VERITY is so highly touted and so glowingly reviewed not only by the big trade magazines but by other bloggers and friends whose opinions matter to me that I wish I could say that perhaps my feelings towards Elizabeth Wein`s book are the product of my mood when I read it or some other excuse. Alas. My feelings of disappointment in CODE NAME VERITY are pretty real. I don't think I need to tell you how much that bums me out, but I will anyway: THIS IS A HUGE BUMMER. If it wasn't for the ending-say, the last 100 pages or so-I wouldn't even be able to tell you that I only LIKED CODE NAME VERITY, which I did. Like, but not love. Not really even close. Let's talk it out.
So, as you might already know, CODE NAME VERITY is the story of two young British girls during WWII who become involved with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, one as a spy and the other as a pilot. One of the girls, Verity, does more of the spy thing and Maddie more of the flying thing. They develop a close friendship over the course of some time, so that when Verity and Maddie's plane crashes over France and Verity is taken prisoner, Maddie is distraught and eager to find her friend once she realizes what has happened to her. Meanwhile, Verity is in a Gestapo-run prison trying to barter for her life with secrets about British planes and airfields and any other juicy tidbits she might know. As the story comes to its conclusion, a THING of TREMENDOUS, EPIC THINGYNESS happens and Elizabeth Wein`s story fairly barrels to its conclusion. (Thankfully.)
I know that this all probably sounds great to you. And I suppose in some ways it is. We get great glimpses into the historical role of women in the war effort, and a story of friendship. But CODE NAME VERITY is split into two parts-the first is made up of Verity's "reports" that she is providing to the Gestapo in exchange for her life, and they are without a doubt some of the very dullest passages I've read in a really long time. There's lots of technical airplane talk that I understood not at all and, quite frankly, nothing very exciting that happens. I truly lost count of the number of times I almost put the book down. We see, through Verity's reports, the growing friendship between the two girls, and we get some sense of Verity's captors and her prison (both awful). It was all largely boring to me.
The one exception to that is Verity's voice. It had this great cavalier quality to it, and a sense of humor and irony that I was glad she could muster considering her surroundings. I admired her pluck greatly and often wished she wasn't telling stories of mind-numbing dullness because I got a sense that she would've had a real knack for yarns. She also had this really intriguing way of giving a bunch of information in great detail and then saying things like, "Oh well, you know, I hope you don't really think that I could've remembered all of this stuff, do you?" I did really enjoy her unreliability that way. If that was missing, I'm almost 99% positive that I would have put CODE NAME VERITY down.
Which would have been a little bit of a shame, because part 2, the end of the story from Maddie's point of view, was much more my speed in more ways than the literal one. It begins just a little bit before the THING THAT HAPPENS, and it was generally more interesting to me. The plot at that point is unfurling apace and we are learning things-really incredible, mind-blowing things-about Verity. If the entirety of CODE NAME VERITY had been more like the second part, two things would have happened, and herein lies the central issue of this book for me: One, I would have liked it more. But two, the book wouldn't have been nearly as gripping at the end, and it wouldn't have been such a feat of story-telling by Elizabeth Wein. It's a catch-22 of the worst kind. I just had no patience or fondness, really, for the setup. ALAS FOREVER.
I'm sure that if you've heard anything about CODE NAME VERITY already, it's these three things: It's AMAZING, I sobbed until I drowned myself in my own tears, and "KISS ME, HARDY!" The truth about my reading of this book is that, even though I now know what all the "KISS ME, HARDY!" is about, I have to tell you that I did not cry. At all. I didn't even well up. This is a pretty big deal for me because I cry easily and often about anything and nothing, and the THING? It's a pretty enormous, emotional THING, and I didn't really have any emotions about it more than, "Wow. That's a pretty big THING!...*crickets*" EEP!
If I can share just one more thing with you all before I wrap up and go hide myself from other readers' death glares, it would be this: I get completely that we are meant to understand that the girls are forever bffs, and that they become very close, important friends to one another. So perhaps this is because I was only mildly interested in what was going on for the first two-thirds of CODE NAME VERITY and so it escaped my notice, but I felt like I missed the development of their friendship somehow, and so when things happen later in the story, I was kind of at a loss. Writing that paragraph just made me nauseous.
Friends, I can't even tell you how high my expectations were for CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, which was likely part of my problem going in. Seriously, the number of five-star reviews for this book from among my Goodreads friends is STAGGERING! I see people tweeting all over the place about "KISS ME, HARDY!" and then devolving into internet-tears! People say that CODE NAME VERITY is their favorite book ever, the most special book they've ever read, one of the best, most touching, most beautiful. I couldn't count myself in that number. I kept waiting for it to get better for me. Not liking this book makes me feel like a tool, and it was certainly a book that I'm glad I read, but I just don't think it was meant to be between us. I will most definitely be reading the companion book, ROSE UNDER FIRE, though, because I recognize an excellent storyteller when I see one, and Elizabeth Wein is surely one.
on November 19, 2012
This is one of those books that's almost impossible to talk about without revealing plot elements, and that's most enjoyable to discover as you go. So, if you think you'd like a young-adult novel starring two women--one a pilot, one an intelligence officer--in WWII, and you don't like spoilers, you should probably avoid all reviews (mine included) and just read it.
Now for the review.
Overall, Code Name Verity is an enjoyable book. The story is gripping, with tension and danger throughout--naturally enough, as one of the protagonists spends the book as a Nazi prisoner. The characters are fairly vivid, and I enjoyed reading about a pair of tough, capable women. I was unaware of the role of women pilots in England's Air Transport Auxiliary during the war, and so especially enjoyed reading about Maddie's advancement as a pilot. The author, a pilot herself, does a great job of communicating her love of flight, and her clear knowledge of planes adds verisimilitude. Wartime England and occupied France are both brought to life, and the writing style is adequate without drawing attention to itself.
Two criticisms then. First, I liked the idea of the main characters' friendship better than its depiction; they seem to leap right from getting acquainted to undying sisterhood, with readers missing a step somewhere along the way.
Second, there are the myriad problems with the epistolary format. The first 2/3 or so of the book is supposed to be written by Julie, the captured intelligence officer, as a "confession" for her captors. Unreliable narrators are fun and this keeps the reader guessing. But for the premise to work, we must believe 1) that the Nazi captain is such a lover of literature that he doesn't mind that his prisoner's "confession" is actually a novel-length narrative weaving together her own day-to-day life as a prisoner and her best friend's wartime experiences, with little to no "useful" information and 2) that despite that, he's too dense to realize she's not telling the truth--even though the third sentence of her account is "I have always been good at pretending," even though she paints herself as a gutsy con artist throughout and admits to making up details. That's a lot to swallow. I'd figured out much of what Julie was hiding halfway through her narrative--for instance, that she liked the translator much more than she let on--and had a hard time believing someone whose job is getting the truth out of prisoners wouldn't have figured her out too. Dropping so many hints also makes Julie look less smart than she's meant to be.
Maddie narrates the last third, and the premise here doesn't make much sense either--she writes most of it in hiding in France, where if found her writing would endanger not only herself but the family sheltering her. Seems an unlikely time for someone who's never kept a journal to start. The two characters' voices sound alike, and the voice doesn't quite fit either of them: too refined for Maddie the working-class mechanic, not refined enough for the ultra-privileged Julie, and too young for either. In both cases their styles are also too novelistic to be plausible--complete with dialogue, scenes, etc. I can grudgingly accept one character writing her journal as if it were a novel, but two?
There are some plot details, too, that don't quite add up--one wonders, for instance, why the Allies would choose to put so many resources into bombing an unoccupied building used by the Nazis, who can presumably just requisition another. But, in the end, Code Name Verity is a competent book that I would have enjoyed much more at age 14 than I did as an adult. It's very young-adult in everything from pacing to plot elements to the characters' voices, and I wonder why Wein chose that route, since the protagonists are women in their 20s whose stories would suit an adult book as well. (Despite that, they're rather jarringly referred to as "girls" throughout, perhaps to make them seem closer to the target readers' ages.) But I don't hold my not being in the intended audience against it.
So, do I recommend the book? Maybe. Despite the glowing reviews, I found nothing mindblowing about it. But I did like it, and if you typically enjoy YA and are willing to engage in a lot of suspension of disbelief, chances are you will have a great time with it.
on December 27, 2013
READ THIS BOOK. -- YES, I AM YELLING. -- READ THIS BOOK. NOW. WHAT PART OF 'NOW' DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND?
It is World War II and the British subjects all seek to contribute to the war effort. War creates extraordinary circumstances-- the gender and class divides are momentarily set aside in a concerted effort to defend one's country. Two women from very different backgrounds cross paths in the service of the crown and quickly become the best of friends. Both are capable, intelligent, resourceful. During one fateful mission, they find themselves in occupied France under some of the least ideal circumstances.
The writer is obviously a lover of flying and is an experienced pilot as confirmed by her bio. She has a deft hand in describing the sensations of flying, both from the vantage point of a pilot and a passenger. I confess to always being interested in World War II history and it seems the author is, too. While there are, of course, liberties taken with the setting, Wein skillfully weaves factual information with her additions.
If you ever watched the movie Memento with Guy Pierce, this has shades of that. In that movie, you start with the conclusion and you have yet no comprehension of the events that transpired to arrive at that end. Then the movie backtracks one painful event at a time and you're slowly shown how things unfolded.
Code Name Verity is written in the same vein. You think you know, but you don't. As the story progresses, tidbits you understood to be facts are upended and reveal signals of theretofore unanticipated turns of events. There are 'aha!' moments and then 'oh no!' switchbacks and the not-occasional 'huh?' confusion. Eventually, the entire tapestry of the narrative is revealed and, only then, will you finally understand.
When you reach the end, it triggers a recollection of little bits of information you read earlier in the story. The meaning of many things you read suddenly become clear, like dragonflies magically becoming visible in a meadow when the sun starts to set.
CODE NAME VERITY is about friendship, courage under horrible circumstances, keeping your wits about you when all is exploding, how necessity forces people to pick sides, selfishness and selflessness. There are too many things to enumerate, all revealing the best and worst of human nature and everything in between. While tagged as a YA book, that is probably largely due to the absence of profanity because this book contains subject matter not easy for an adult to comprehend.
The way the story is told, this book can be a slow read sometimes, slow because you are lulled into thinking what you're reading isn't particularly important. But if you invest time and patience reading this book until the end, you will be greatly rewarded. The payoff is huge. H.U.G.E.
How rewarding? The last few pages of this book are streaked with my tears. Interspersed with the tearful moments were moments marked by maniacal laughter. THAT REWARDING.
on September 18, 2012
Every time von Linden, the Gestapo interrogator, appears in a scene, I'm annoyed. Annoyed because I don't buy the premise that he's letting his prisoner write a novel to disclose her war secrets. But more annoyed that I care so much about the prisoner and her friends that I simply cannot put the book down. In Elizabeth Wein's novel of historical fiction, Code Name Verity, the plot materializes as a tightly bound mosaic, and it is this weaving that keeps readers glued to this otherwise questionable premise. The plot begins with two women serving in World War II, one of whom, Verity, a Resistance spy, is captured and held at a Gestapo headquarters in Ormaie, France after her plane crashes (piloted by her best friend Maddie) into enemy territory. The ensuing action occurs off the page as we read Verity's daily notes and stories from the past which she passes on to the Gestapo in exchange for a few more days of life (and torture).
Much of the book centers on the history of Verity's relationship with Maddie, her pilot friend, and how their unlikely friendship blossomed around depressing military hangars. Historical novel enthusiasts will enjoy Wein's flight knowledge and meticulous description of period aircraft (which truly authenticates the historical portion of the novel). Additionally, her subtle but constant blackouts continually remind readers of the realities of living in war-time Britain. Wein's sense of place also helps to lighten the darkness of the novel, and her descriptions recount the beauty of England from the air: "with all the Cheshire plain and its green fields and red chimneys thrown at her feet like a tartan picnic blanket" (8).
Wein's strongest literary tactic is her character development. While I question the believability of the "creative writing" prisoner, the creation of a novelist/diarist character brings an extra authenticity to the novel. We are able to get inside their heads, and we understand how they are vulnerable, wreckless, desperate, yet incredibly strong. When Verity despairs, "You'll shoot me at the end no matter what I do" (5), we will her to go on. A minor complaint for Wein's characters, is that they lack period diction. Several times Wein necessarily whips out Verity's authentic Scottish brogue, but the phrasing and rhythm of 1940s British English fails to appear.
What Wein sacrifices with speech and a questionable plot premise, she regains through her characters' circumstances. While I faltered at the brink of the "suspension of disbelief," I never forgot that it was a novel about war. Loss is real, and she never subdues the violence. The plausibility of the novel is found in the moral dilemmas with which prisoners are faced and the ensuing discomfort we feel as these moral dilemmas are placed, quite accurately, in the context of World War II. The mind games she plays with us are almost as intriguing as the cunning characters themselves.
Wein's novel, then, accurately depicts the emotional turmoil and ethical dilemmas of military personnel and prisoners of war, and she weaves a narrative of gender roles, ethnicity, fear, and truth into an exciting and harrowing novel, one necessarily touched with pain and loss. While she fails to produce accurate diction and a flawless plot premise, her characters and circumstances are so real that ignoring them would seem as inhumane as the character of the Gestapo interrogator, SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden.
on May 14, 2012
Free ARC provided by NetGalley
Best friends Maddie and... (I don't even know what to call her because I don't want to ruin anything!) crash-land in occupied France. One becomes a prisoner, tortured for information. What about the other girl? I am so set on not ruining ANYTHING about this book that I'm not going to say anything else about the plot except that there are two parts to the story. That was about all I knew going into it, and it was enough to make me want to read it.
This book is a wonderful historical fiction about WWII told from a different perspective. There are lots of Holocaust books. There are books about soldiers fighting the war. There are books about almost every aspect of the war. Very rarely do you read about women during the war, and almost never about young women actually fighting in the war! Fighting! Not being nurses, not working at home, not struggling to survive while their towns are being blown up. Actually flying into the middle of it! Add to that the prisoner of war aspect and wow!
I really enjoyed reading this book. I had to know what was going to happen! It definitely drew me in and kept me there. When I got past the first part of the book, I didn't think I would care for the second part, and was quick to say that I was only going to be giving the book 4 stars. Before long, I was hooked again. The author did a good job of surprising me and of bringing so many things together. I enjoyed reading the first part probably more than the second, but I brought so much more out of the second than the first. For some people who may think that the beginning story drags on... keep reading. I didn't feel it dragged on at all, but that was because I found most of the information so educational. There was quite a bit about certain types of planes that I just kind of skimmed over because it didn't particularly interest me, but she thankfully didn't go into too much detail about it. For anyone who thinks the beginning story isn't very interesting, they will be rewarded with all of the crazy twists of the second part.
Even after I finished the book, I at first thought I would only rank it 4 stars. There was only so much action and a lot of story, something I don't usually enjoy. I decided to sit on it for a couple of days. Then I couldn't get the book out of my mind. I kept thinking of ways that the author made the story realistic, different, enthralling. When I went to talk about it with other people, so much information sat on the edge of my tongue waiting to be spilled out. I had to keep my mouth shut just in case any of those people decide to read it, because it wouldn't be the same if you had any real idea what was going to happen. In the end, it left such an impact that it definitely earned the 5 star ranking.
I can count the number of books that have left me in tears* using only one hand, and I can now count CODE NAME VERITY among those select few stories. Admittedly, my first attempt at reading it ended after only 34 pages. But, then the glowing reviews kept coming and I was determined to finish and see what I was missing out on. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. CODE NAME VERITY is a unique and skillfully woven tale of friendship in a time of war that will undoubtedly become a favorite story for many readers.
Part One is narrated by a girl with the code name Verity, while Part Two is narrated by a girl with the code name Kittyhawk**. Verity carefully bares her soul and secrets onto scraps of paper in exchange for more time to live, and gives out code in exchange for her clothes back. As she writes about the past and present, it's at first difficult to see how her stories about Maddie (a pilot and a friend of Verity's) will prove to be useful information to her cruel interrogators. Yet, with every new detail Verity reveals on each page, the story becomes more engaging and surprising. Kittyhawk's continuation of the story even strengthens the compelling aspect to the writing. In the end, CODE NAME VERITY is a story you shouldn't miss out on.
HIGHLIGHTS: Brilliantly written. When I reached Part Two, I realized how smart Verity's narration was as everything fell into place. Emotional and compelling, this is the kind of story that will linger in your thoughts. I love how developed the characters are, especially Verity and her firecracker personality. Setting, plot - everything was extraordinary. And, despite the amount of somber moments, there are many delightful ones too.
LOWLIGHTS: A bit disorientating in the beginning, and very slow moving.
FINAL RATING: 4.5 out of 5
* The last "KISS ME, HARDY!" scene got me good (quote doesn't mean what you may think it does). So heartbreaking. *looks for tissues*
** You learn both of their actual names with time.
*** Received eARC in exchange for honest review, and then purchased finished copy for Kindle.
on September 28, 2013
I have just finished reading this book for the second time and feel I can now explain why I love it so much (though I don't know if my review can do justice). The first time I read it, I was swept away by all the action and intrigue. The second time I read it, I savored Absolutely Every Last Detail that made Code Name Verity come to life for me.
So exactly how did this book lure me in? First, the premise is irresistible if you like history and girls who do things: two young women serving in the British Royal Air Force during World War II--one a pilot, the other a spy--go on a clandestine mission to Nazi-occupied France. They are best friends. Only one of them will come out of this mission alive.
As author Elizabeth Wein explains in her debriefing (that's "afterword" for those of us who are civilians), although she did a lot of research to ensure historical accuracy (I love her account of the first ballpoint pen), "this book is not meant to be a good history but rather a good story." Well, I think she overshot her goal, because Code Name Verity is not only a very, very, VERY good adventure story, it is also rich in historical verisimilitude. I can almost believe the author lived the characters' experiences. (It did not surprise me to learn that Wein herself is a pilot.)
Second, the unusual narrative structure kept me guessing. Code Name Verity is told in a first-person confessional format that deceptively draws the reader in close, yet still manages to keep the full truth hidden for a good long while. (I don't want to say anything else about this for fear of giving too much away.)
Third, and most important, the beautiful friendship between Maddie and Julie is the heart and the glue of this story. Of course there are many excellent stories about friends, but I don't think I've ever read a novel quite like this, in which the author so openly glorifies best-friendship. "It's like being in love, discovering your best friend," exalts one of the inseparable pair. Yes, it is. Discovering this book was also like falling in love--I reveled in finding a story that paints friendship just as exhilarating as a romantic relationship. I enjoyed reading about how Maddie's and Julie's differences make them fit together so well, like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and yet each of them is a striking character in her own right. At times I was nearly in danger of taking the best friends' harrowing experiences for granted because their bravery, humor, and steadfast devotion to each other seem to outshine all the suffering they endure. I've never flown a plane or interrogated a spy, but I laughed and cried with empathy anyway, because I do know what it's like to fall into a glorious friendship that changes your life forever.
on January 4, 2013
Bah, I'm desperate to discuss this book but I'm afraid I'd ruin it for you. It's a difficult book to review without spoilers.
What I can say is that the first 60% was interesting and good but occasionally I found myself wondering what all the fuss was about. Then the wheels came off. You think you know but you don't. The author ripped my heart out then ran it over with a Lysander again and again.
Stick with it, it's worth the price of airfare. Highly recommended, y'all.