Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein
Original Publication Date: January 2012
Length: 368 pages
View from the Traffic Light:
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.
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.
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.