Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein
Maddie Brodart and “Queenie” AKA “Verity” AKA “you’ll bloody find out later” meet while working as wireless operators for the Royal Air Force during World War II. Maddie is an experienced pilot but has limited opportunities to fly because of her gender; Queenie, who is super cool under pressure, is fluent in German. Their friendship sparks when a confused, wayward German pilot flies into British airspace, thinking he is over France. He came under fire, his crew was killed and he lost an engine. Maddie gets his distress signal and coaches Queenie to give him the information he needs to neatly land the plane and promptly be apprehended. This impressive feat does not go unnoticed by their superiors. When they are approached by a Special Operations Executive to join covert operations, Maddie gets the opportunity to fly transport planes, and Queenie can use her natural acting ability to become a secret agent. What more could a descendant of William Wallace want? Both eagerly sign up, but the exciting adventure they envision turns into a terrible nightmare.
Code Name Verity opens with Queenie being held by Nazi interrogators in Ormaie, France. Her captors give her a pen and paper so that she can provide them any information that may be useful. After being brutally tortured, she does give them sets of wireless code and uses the paper to slowly tell them her story. Her narrative focuses mostly on her friendship with Maddie, but she drops a few details about herself and her horrific imprisonment. Queenie documents how she and Maddie came into Ormaie and how she was captured. Though some may consider Queenie a turncoat, she does not give up her information easily. Using her intellect, Scottish defiance, and cool resolve, Queenie keeps her interrogators and the reader questioning who is really in control.
It is very difficult to write about this unique novel without giving away its beautiful plot twists. There are hints in Queenie’s narrative that she might not be the most reliable narrator, but Wein weaves a much more complex story than the reader anticipates. This book is not an easy read. For the first 57 pages, you’re not really sure who is the narrator. There are lots of literary and historical allusions to Kipling, William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, Horatio Nelson, and Peter Pan, just to name a few. There is also a tremendous amount of detail about flying and airplanes, which threaten to bore the reader to tears. The narration is also often problematic. It’s hard to believe a torture victim, soon to be executed, would waste so much time and paper on pointless descriptions. I almost gave up on this novel, but then those twists kicked in and I was hooked. Code Name Verity is a book to be read multiple times and studied. Much like reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, if you can put up with the sometimes confusing and seemingly superfluous details, you will be rewarded with an amazing story.
Code Name Verity is tale of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice. Using heroic female protagonists, it shows the important role women played in WWII. Wein’s novel is not perfect, but it is very, very good. How often do you finish a young adult novel and feel the need to immediately reread it? I’d say that’s an impressive feat that should not go unnoticed.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Recommended for grades 10 and up