Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
I found Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein to be a very heart-felt, exciting, and well written novel. I had to sit on this one for a while before I could come up with something smart to say about it. This was an eloquently executed, thinking book. Not everything is as it appears.
I enjoy historical fiction and I tend to gravitate toward a lot of WWII historical YA for whatever reason — perhaps it’s because there is such a wealth of story opportunities in the time frame. To give you a quick summary, this story is about two young women: Maddie (a young blue-collar British-Jewish girl who loves machines and becomes a British civilian airman) and Julie (an educated, Scottish aristocrat turned radio operator turned spy). These two woman undertake a secret mission behind enemy lines in 1943 Occupied France. Already sounds intriguing right?
I really enjoyed the story and found that it was told in a not so unique and yet original way at the same time. Stories have been told in letter format for ages, but the flow of this story and the circumstances of the storytelling itself are a bit more original (at least the first half). As a whole the book is separated into to parts; the first half being the story told by Julie and the second half being told by Maddie.
The voices of the two narrators come across strong and distinct. They both have their own style and worries though they both seem to have a hard time finding paper. 😉
The most interesting choice the author made when creating the narration of this story was the fact that the first half of the story is a third-person story told in first-person. Kind of funny sounding huh? Yeah. Julie, our first-person narrator (or letter writer in this case), is telling Maddie’s story, making this a third-person story told by the first-person. It’s obviously a first-person narrative because we often get Julie’s comments on the conditions as she is telling Maddie’s story. We know immediately that Julie has been captured by the Nazis and that she’s telling Maddie’s story (and indirectly her own) to save her life for another day. We learn about all the various ways she’s treated, how she feels about her situation, and how she struggles to get pen & paper to write her story. The story is convincing, compelling, and sometimes misleading.
I found Julie’s half of the story the most nail-biting, but Maddie’s half of the story put a lot of the broken pieces together to reveal great twists and turns in the story’s perspective that could have only been told the way it was. The funny thing about Maddie’s part of the story is that unlike Julie’s story, many times I forgot that Maddie was writing down Julie’s story. The story felt naturally first-person and I often felt like it was happening now and not “then.” Though Maddie also talks about needing paper to figure out her thoughts, this felt a little less important that the unfolding story being told.
There was only one instance when I was pulled out of the story due to the narration style and that’s when the narration style was specifically pointed out by characters within the novel. It was strange because I thought to my self “well duh, I already knew that” and then I started wondering why the author and editor(s) decided that it was important to point out to the reader – or at least validate the reader’s feelings on the subject. I wish I could say more about this, but then I might spoil the fun for you and we wouldn’t want that. 😉
Character vs Plot
The biggest aspect going for this book are the two main characters Maddie and Julie. It’s much more of a character driven story than a plot driven story. Though, in my opinion, there’s a lot of plot going for this novel — it’s just not in the form of a ton of action, but in the form of a mystery-suspense where you are trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not and how the pieces of the whole story come together.
I haven’t read a primarily character driven novel in a while. As you can see from most of by book reviews I’m a big fan of science fiction and fantasy, which generally tend to be more plot driven with great characters rather than character driven. But I love character driven stories because I enjoy people and their stories. Why do people do what they do and how do they make their choices. Even though this book can occasionally get bogged down in airplane technicality, that’s part of the story — it’s part of who Maddie is. And it’s part of who Julie is to notice and understand the people around her that she loves. Everything that these two women do are who they are, including Julie deciding to tell Maddie’s story when she is asked to tell everything she knows about the war effort.
If you enjoy any of the following points:
- Thinking books
- Deeply character driven stories with great twists and turns
- World War II historical fiction
- The idea of women flying airplanes
- Female spies
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is the book for you!