Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Posted May 21, 2014 by Stormy in Books / 9 Comments

Code Name Verity

 by Elizabeth Wein

 Code Name Verity

Original Publication Date: January 2012
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Source: Bought
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Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

A Michael L. Printz Award Honor book that was called “a fiendishly-plotted mind game of a novel” in The New York Times, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other.

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With its interesting premise, strong center female friendship, and an unreliable narrator, I thought I was sure to love Code Name Verity. I haven’t read many WWII books recently, but as a teenager I gobbled up every single WWI and WWII book my school library had, so I thought Code Name Verity might be a return to my reading roots, especially considering the high praise this book has gotten from so many reviewers I trust. Yet I found myself being let down on all accounts by Code Name Verity’s pacing and plot—two highly important elements that I found completely lacking.

I will start with the few positive elements I found in Code Name Verity, and that was the two main characters, “Verity” and Maddie themselves. While I didn’t quite understand their friendship (more on that later), as separate characters I was completely enamored with them. The first half is Verity’s confession, as she is writing down the story of how she came to be captured by the Nazis and tortured. She’s given up eleven sets of codes, and now she tells her captors she’ll tell the truth to win back her clothes.

Verity’s confessions are tough to read at times. While none of the descriptions of the torture Verity undergoes are very detailed (she’s writing them down after the fact, so there’s some distance), they did tend to get graphic at times, fair warning. Even if I was having trouble with the story Verity was telling, I did love Verity’s voice. This young woman has lost everything, she’s so sure that she’ll be executed, and she finds small ways to fight back. I’m also a huge fan of an unreliable narrator. Even though Verity is insisting that she’s telling the truth, since the reader only gets her story, it’s impossible to know if she really is until the end.

But as much as I liked Verity, I loved Maddie. She’s a pilot, through and through. She knows that is what she’s good at, and she’s not trying to be anything else (unless forced to for her life). While Verity is a natural actress, all Maddie can do is remind herself to “fly the plane”. The second half of the book is told through Maddie’s journal, and I found Maddie’s part easier to read and more compelling, not only because I wanted to know what happened but because I thought it was better written as well.

Despite the fact I liked Verity and Maddie separately, Code Name Verity REALLY hinged around Verity and Maddie’s friendship. If you can’t buy into that relationship, the plot is not going to work for you, and it did NOT for me. I love good friendship stories, but I just didn’t feel this one. Sure, you can tell me they would do anything for each other (and they do often risk their lives for each other), but I’m confused as to how their friendship deepened so quickly. They really only have a few scenes together in the first half of the book when Verity is telling her story, and I never felt it. There were technically emotional scenes, but I never felt it, ever. In that regards, it reminded me quite a bit of how I felt about Not a Drop to Drink—like the words on the page were making an emotional scene, but the author somehow didn’t translate that emotion in a believable way.

I found the big “oh!” moment towards the end so heavily foreshadowed and personally unemotional that it just didn’t really do it for me. The pacing of Code Name Verity is so very, very slow. I was told that it picks up halfway through but I never felt like it did. The beginning of the book gets so bogged down in back story that by the time the main story started, I was rather unimpressed.

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I know several readers loved Code Name Verity, but I was rather. . . well, bored, the entire time. I thought it was too technical, too unemotional, and all together not compelling. I never really understood the central friendship, so the rest of the story fell down around it. 2/5 cupcakes.

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2 Stars

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9 responses to “Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

  1. I’m sorry you didn’t love this one, but I can understand why. I really was very unsure about everything (the friendship, the plot, Maddie and Verity as individuals, again, EVERYTHIG) until Maddie’s part. And while I ended up really enjoying it, the pacing (which I think was a disservice to the story) and the fact that the “emotional moments” didn’t work completely for me made it not a five star read for me like it was for so many others.

    • Stormy

      It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who struggled with some of the “emotional moments”(though it sounds like you enjoyed this one more than I did!). On one hand, I admit it’s well-crafted, but something was just missing for me in such a fundamental way.

  2. Cait

    Aw, so sad this wasn’t for you. I initially DNF’ed it because I didn’t “get it”. I LOVED Verity and wanted more of her, so I was pretty bored being stuck with Maddie flying planes. Then I listened to it on audio. BEST DECISION EVER. The narrator was fantastic and I was soooo sucked in. x) I loved Maddie/Verity’s friendship and I totally felt for them. It’s one of my favourite all time. (Buuut, I also loved NADTD.) XD I DO understand why didn’t work for you, though!

    • Stormy

      It’s so interesting to me that so many people said they struggled with the beginning and almost DNFed, then loved it. I struggled a bit with the beginning too, but never to the point I considered DNF-ing(not at the beginning, anyway! I started feeling that way around the middle). You’re the second person who said they loved it when they listened to the audio! Maybe I picked the wrong format for this book.

  3. That’s funny, because I found Code Name Verity to be very emotional – not unemotional at all. But that was my experience. I did really buy into the deep friendship that Maddie and Verity had. I also didn’t find it boring or slow, but I was listening to the audio, and I definitely think that can make a difference.

    Sorry this one didn’t hit the mark for you.

    • Stormy

      Well, I think most people have more of a similar experience to you–I definitely feel like an outlier! I’m not sure why it felt unemotional. Everything going on *should* have made me feel emotional, but somehow it just never reached me in the same way I thought it would.

  4. I, too, was not as moved by the friendship as many other readers seemed to be. I think this is one of those love it or hate it reads. It certainly isn’t very palatable in the beginning. I much more enjoyed Maddie’s version of the story and writing style as well.

    • Stormy

      I’m glad I’m not the only one! I could see *why* everyone seems to love it without feeling it myself.

      • I can too, but for some reason, I just didn’t connect with the characters. It is very well-written though, and the dual personas is well done. I’ve seen good reviews of Rose Under Fire from readers who weren’t feeling Code Name Verity, so I’ve considered checking that one out. At the same time, life is too short to read lackluster books! Looking forward to seeing you around Armchair BEA!

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