If you’ve paid any attention to my posts here at The Book Wars, you may have noticed two themes: historical fiction and feminism. Code Name Verity, a YA novel by Elizabeth Wein (2012), is a wonderful combination of both.
This is one book I hesitate to spoil for readers, because it really is just THAT good. So I’m going to give a pretty bare bones summary before diving into why you absolutely must read this book.
Wein presents a two-part plot, the first half is written from Julie’s perspective, a Scottish spy working for England who is captured and detained as a prisoner of war in German occupied France in 1943. She has been commissioned by her captors to write her confession and does so in order to buy herself more time to live.
The second part of the story is told from the Maddie’s perspective. Maddie is both Julie’s best friend and the pilot who brought her to France. Maddie is desperately doing everything she can to save Julie.
As an avid reader of not just historical fiction, but World War II historical fiction in particular, I’ve come to terms with the fact that every story set during WWII will leave you simultaneously happy and sad when you’re done with it. The stories written for children’s or YA audiences generally have a happy, or at the very least, hopeful ending. But despite that, it’s still a story set in a devastating war; at least one of the characters you love is going to die. No getting around it.
Code Name Verity is no different – it’s a story that will simultaneously rip your heart in two and then patch it back together again. The whole thing is wrought with the overwhelming love of these two best friends. So even the really sad or terrible parts have a silver lining when you remember what is at the root of all motives.
Now I also mentioned feminism at the beginning of this post, and here’s why: two girls brought together through the circumstances of WWII doing their part to fight for the Allied forces. They are women who prove that they have what it takes to do men’s work and do it well.
One of my favourite lines in the book comes from Maddie’s internal dialogue while she is standing face to face with the man responsible for torturing Julie while she is held prisoner:
“It never occurred to him that I am in every way his enemy, his opponent, I am everything he is battling against, I am British and Jewish, in the [Air Transport Auxiliary] I am a woman doing a man’s work at a man’s rate of pay, and my work [**SPOLIER**] is to deliver the aircraft that will destroy his regime” (310).
I think these thoughts just make Maddie the ultimate badass. Not only is she all of those things, but she happens to be parading as a German woman during this encounter and she totally gets away with it.
(For instances of Julie being equally as badass please read the book).
Both Julie and Maddie are incredible women. They take on the challenges of not only WWII, but being a woman during WWII, and thriving in the face of adversity.
There are more plot twists (some of the most clever and unexpected plot twists I’ve ever encountered at that) than I know what to do with. And when you reach the end you’ll wonder how on earth such a wonderful and clever story was ever woven together. (I suspect witchcraft – though the Author’s Note claims a lot of research, passion, and a reader’s willingness to believe in plausibility above all else).
Wein, Elizabeth. Code Name Verity. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2012. Print.