I had a dream about Code Name Verity last night. In it, I was not flying dangerous missions during World War II like Maddie - an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot. Nor was the Gestapo in occupied France interrogating me like Queenie - a Special Operations Executive spy. I was simply myself, with all of the details of Maddie and Queenie's story careening through my head. Details like how hard it is to land a Lysander aircraft when the tailplane controls are gone, how unfathomably painful it is to be burned with a cigarette while being held in prison, and how incredibly unique the friendship is between Maddie, a working-class English pilot and Queenie, an upper-class Scottish spy. Code Name Verity begs to be read not once but twice. The first time because it is such a captivating story, and the second to catch all its brilliant clues.
I truly think I was trying to re-read the novel in my dream.
Code Name Verity is, at its heart, a story about a friendship between two women, one a pilot and one a spy. Their bond is at the heart of the story, and the unbelievable circumstances they both endure flying secret mission planes during World War II and executing those secret missions beat loud and fast and clear. Queenie (the spy) tells the story in the form of a confessional letter of sorts. She buys time from the Gestapo by promising to write out top-secret information about the British war effort and her voice is utterly captivating. She is passionate, funny, and desperate. Along with making good on her promise to the Gestapo, this is Queenie's last chance to thank Maddie, and to recall the history of how their friendship formed, and she does justice to them both.
It is tough to write anything more in this review for fear of giving away the story. Almost anything is too much; the story is that brilliantly crafted. I will say this though: Elizabeth Wein is a master at creating the perfect chord, the one that strikes the notes of both surprise and inevitability all at the same time. Through carefully crafted factual details, precise placement of suspense, and Queenie's phenomenal voice, Wein is able to make the reader hopeful and then skeptical, shocked and relieved, all within a matter of paragraphs. She is brave in her dogged writing style just as Maddie and Queenie are, in their staunch commitment to their incredibly dangerous jobs. And thus the reader becomes brave too. Code Name Verity is no easy read. It is painful to both the heart and the conscience. But it is worth every bit of it.
However, if you are like me, think twice about reading it before bed. This story is so powerful and captivating, you just might find it entering your dreams.
Code Name Verity is targeted at young adult readers and I highly recommend it for them, but it also has cross-over appeal and I urge adults to read it too.
This review was originally published in July 2012, and has been updated for the May 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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