Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Jun 26, 2013
And now the tricky part - how do I possibly give a summary of a book whose very essence lies in its carefully cloaked secrets and guarded identities? It's not like some books where the twists all happen at the end; if I start explaining or describing practically anything, I will most certainly make an inadvertent slip of the keyboard and tell you something that should be kept under lock and key. Maybe you're like me and rarely remember plot summaries, but I would not dare risk that and spoil it for someone.
So you get the most basic facts: It is historical fiction that takes place during World War II. It is about two young women, but I can't even tell you their names. Both of them take a turn narrating the story. One of them is a spy who has been captured by the Nazis and her narration is in the form of a confession (I don't think that's giving away anything important since I'm pretty sure the reader knows that right from the start). It is a fascinating tale not only because it is about two women who were both intimately involved with the war but also because it tests the true meaning of honesty, friendship, and sacrifice.
I have to say, this book was a slo-o-o-o-o-o-w start for me. If I wasn't a bit OCD about finishing books, I think I would have given up on it. I listened to it, and it literally took me a full four CDs (out of nine) before I was fully invested in it. After that, it flew, and I was quite happy I stuck it out. The first part talks a lot about flying and planes and technicalities that I just wasn't all that interested in. But in the end, I could see that it was a needed and worthwhile set-up, and the rest of the book was awesome. I'm telling you this just so you know that if you're like me, you might have to read half the book in order to give it a fair chance. (I totally understand if that's not worth it to you, but just know you'll be missing out.)
I listened to the audio, and both narrators (Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell) were amazing. It is a really emotional book, and they relayed that emotion so poignantly that I felt it. There is one point in the story where one of the women is crying, and her tears are spilling onto the pages she's writing. Even though I wasn't actually crying (at least not at that point), it was still like I could feel tears dripping down my cheeks and off my nose. Of course, this is also evidence of the incredible writing, but I know the excellent narration also added to it.
Mike listened to it, too, and although he was a little wary of its lack of male leads, he ended up liking it (except he arrogantly insisted that he liked the ending he thought up a lot more than the way it actually ended). I always like it when we read the same book because then I have someone to talk with about it. He did burst my bubble in a couple of places by pointing out how unlikely it would have been for a couple of the (major) events to take place, but then I countered by telling him that a good story is built on unlikeliness. I also thought it was interesting that he preferred one main character, and I preferred the other.
There were two phrases that were repeated regularly throughout the story (and both were used by both characters). For me, these two phrases summed up some of the underlying themes of the novel.
"Careless talk costs lives" was the first one. Much of the book focuses on the power of words: one word might save a life while another word might destroy it; also, the same words can be taken and interpreted in a multitude of different ways; sometimes, it's the things left unsaid that mean the most; and also, the mouth (and pen) is something that should be kept carefully guarded because once the words are free, we no longer have control over them.
The second phrase was, "Fly the plane, Maddy." Sometimes this was meant very literally while at other times, it seemed like there were some underlying messages: keep going, keep fighting, no matter what; focus on the task at hand; do your duty; enjoy the wonders of this life; turn off your emotions and go.
I really love a book that uses repetition in a creative and multifaceted way. Even if the author didn't intend for me to find inspiration in these memorable phrases, I found them nonetheless, and that's why reading is magic to me.
If you've read the book, you might be interested in reading this lengthy interview with Elizabeth Wein on Bookwitch. I'll be honest, I haven't read the entire interview, but it does go into a lot of interesting detail.
And also, I just heard that Elizabeth Wein has a new book coming out in September called Rose Under Fire. It is also about a female pilot in WWII (Wein herself is a pilot, so it makes sense that she would write about them), but it takes place in the infamous concentration camp at Ravensbruck.
In spite of its slow beginning, Code Name Verity was one of the best stories about friendship I've ever read. If you've read it, I'd love for you to share your thoughts about it.
Content note: there is some offensive language.