Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein


April 27, 2012 by Heidi

book cover of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinTitle: Code Name Verity [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Elizabeth Wein [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Published: May 15th, 2012 by Hyperion Books for Children (first published in the UK February 6th, 2012 by Egmont Press)
Format: Kindle edition; 327 pages.
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley.

Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.

I don’t know how to write this review.  It seems to be a lot like Fight Club.  The first rule of Code Name Verity is you don’t talk about Code Name Verity.  But I shall try.

My feelings toward Code Name Verity are somewhat of a Catch 22.  I would have never heard of this book if I hadn’t seen some amazing reviews, but if I hadn’t read such amazing reviews, I would have approached with an even greater air of mystery and no expectations.  It’s not that I didn’t greatly enjoy Code Name Verity, I did very much and I so hope you read it, it’s that I didn’t fall in love quite as I expected to.  I fell in love a whole other way. When everyone tells you as you start a book to store up on tissues, it kind of make you feel like you missed something when you only tear up briefly in two parts, and shed nary a tear.  I just want to get that confession out of the way.  I found Code Name Verity to be incredibly beautiful and powerful, and yet I feel like it affected me differently than I expected.  I expected tragedy, and yet what I found was daring and hopeful, a fierce friendship to adore.  I just couldn’t find myself distraught over Code Name Verity, because to me it was too inspiring and steadfast to blubber.  In no way am I saying those who have been wrecks upon finishing this book are in any way weak or wrong, I just had a different reaction.  I was pretty happy, and that was why I teared up.

I first heard of Code Name Verity shortly after devouring Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis.  I loved that duology very much, and was positively salivating for more historical fiction set in WWII, but not the mainland Europe WWII, WWII as it was experienced in Great Britain.  Needless to say, I pounced on the opportunity to read this book.  And, despite physically taking place in France, Verity’s confessions of operations in Great Britain were exactly what I was looking for.

I think I’ve grasped on to WWII Great Britain, because for me it is a fear I can understand.  Growing up, we are taught about the horrors of the Holocaust, given amazing books like Number the Stars and The Diary of Anne Frank that are so heartbreaking and frightening, it’s quite frankly beyond my mental capacity to feel like I can truly understand the terror.  It’s just too terrible.  I know it happened, and I feel so strongly about it, and yet, I know I can never really understand.  Reading about the war effort in Great Britain, however, is something I can wrap my head around.  I’m not saying I can fully grasp it in the sense that I’ve ever experienced anything even approaching the blackouts, the Blitz, or attempting to navigate with no street signs, but it’s certainly an easier circumstance to picture yourself in.  It kind of makes you think that most American’s sense of danger during the war effort was laughable in comparison to Great Britain in the same way that most of Great Britain’s sense of danger was laughable in comparison to those living in mainland Europe.  This reality was emphasized through the events of Code Name Verity, and I appreciate so much that this book was able to help me understand the stepping stones of fear that existed in WWII.

But then, the reality is, Code Name Verity isn’t really about WWII.  It’s about women who do what they love and what they are good at, not for the war effort, but because they can and they want to.  It’s about friendship, comradery, and true bravery.  Not the kind of bravery where you think ‘I’m going to do this because it’s the right thing do do’ or ‘it will save so many people’ or ‘I will sacrifice myself’, but the kind of bravery where you don’t even think because in your mind there is no other option.

I came to feel so strongly for both Maddie and Verity through Verity’s writings.  There’s nothing quite like an indignant Scot (do not call one English…I get the same way when people say I’m from the Mid-West), and a girl who loves flying so much that she will risk her life to do it often.  The equation drawn between love and friendship is beautiful and real in a way that makes Code Name Verity one of the most powerful stories of friendship I have ever read.  The entire book you are questioning Verity’s story, wondering how much is real, but you never question her relationship with Maddie.

Code Name Verity was a magnificently written story that managed to exceed my expectations, while simultaneously not meeting them whatsoever.  It wasn’t quite the story I expected, but I think for that I loved it more.

I have told the truth.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  Obvs I really want to read the Lion Hunters series since there’ve been quite a few comparisons drawn between the main character and Eugenides of The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner.

Recommended for:
Anyone and everyone who enjoys epistolary novels, historical fiction, or unreliable narrators.  Particularly those who enjoy stories of friendship, true bravery, and Peter Pan.</embed></object></div>”;” alt=””>
Please do check out the trailer for Code Name Verity!

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  Before you read this book, I challenge you to make a list of your 10 greatest fears.  Then, once you have read it, do it again and see—what 10 things are you afraid of now?

Get a second opinion:
Janicu’s Book Blog
The Book Smugglers
Chachic’s Book Nook


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  1. The indignant scot had me cracking up A LOT! I'm literally 75% into this book and I'm loving every page, I don't want it to end!ComaCalm's Corner

  2. Heidi says:

    Oh! You're at the BEST parts then! So glad to hear you're loving it. I'm excited to read your review. =)

  3. I love that we all have fiercely different reactions to stories. Most of the reviews I've seen mention sobbing, but you didn't, which sort of tempers my expected reaction. I don't know. I just find that in book blogging my favorite thing is reading how differently people experience and feel the same stories they read.And to make this more Code Name Verity specific, I am very interested in this part of history. I find it utterly fascinating, World War II Europe. And well, I think it will slay me and make me cry and honestly, I can't wait. But, I also am looking forward to feeling uplifted after reading about the friendship and women bits.In other words, I am so incredibly pumped to read this, thanks to your review.

  4. janicu says:

    So all I can do when I read this review is do a sort of sigh of understanding. Sigh. What a great book.

  5. Catie says:

    Wow, excellent review today Heidi. I've been meaning to read this for quite a while and you definitely have me even more interested. That's the rub though, isn't it? Sometimes the positive hype makes you have super-big expectations. I can definitely relate. I love your "biggest fears" challenge and it really makes me curious. Thanks!

  6. Melanie says:

    Hmmm, it's literally been years since I cried while reading. I love the idea of this setting as well. One of my favorite historical books about a terrible time in history is Forgotten Fire. It's set in 1915 Europe, and it tells one boy's story about the Armenian genocide. I had to read it for a World History class, and it really sent chills down my back because I'd literaly never heard of it. As Hitler said, "Who remembers the Armenians?"

  7. Heidi says:

    I know, right?! I feel like I'm now in the know with everyone who's already read and loved it. So difficult to put this one into words, if I didn't want others to read it so badly, I may not have attempted to review it at all.

  8. Heidi says:

    Thanks so much, April! Seriously, you will love this one, even if it makes you blubber. It IS a powerful, hard hitting story, but like I said, I found it very uplifting and hopeful. Seeing everyone's different reactions to the same story is one of the things I love most about reading and blogging as well! I love that we all interpret art differently, and that kind of gives it a life of its own.

  9. Heidi says:

    Thanks, Catie! I do hope that you read this one, and I'm so excited to hear your reaction to it when you do. My reaction to the hype for this one was weird. I was excited, but at the same time I was DREADING reading this one that I thought would tear out my heart. And then it didn't, but not because it wasn't fantastic. I loved that! I hope you do my challenge, this book got me thinking about my biggest fears a lot, and it's funny how silly of them can seem later.

  10. Heidi says:

    Really, Melanie? That makes me feel better! I DO cry at books, but I don't seem to near as often or near as much as many other people do. It kind of makes me feel broken sometimes, but again, I just have to remind myself that we all interpret things differently, and just because we don't cry doesn't mean we aren't emotionally affected. This is a fantastic setting! And wow, I have NOT heard of Forgotten Fire either, because apparently it really was forgotten? I'm going to have to check that out now, thank you!

  11. Theta Sigma says:

    Great review. I followed it after your comment on the Coma Calm site.Between the two of you, you've added another book on to my rapidly expanding to read list.

  12. Wonderful review, Heidi! I didn't cry much with this book either, but it hit me a lot deeper than most books that get some cheap tears out of me. It is entirely unforgettable, this one, and I love that you loved it, even if it was different than you expected.

  13. Heidi says:

    I'm glad you found me, and this book! I hope you read and enjoy it, it's so beautifully written and emotionally powerful.

  14. Heidi says:

    Thanks, Maja! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who didn't turn on the water works for this one, and I agree so much that there've been books I HAVE cried out that were more forgettable or where the emotions came cheap.

  15. Chachic says:

    Lovely review, Heidi! So I mentioned in your Goodreads review that maybe I shouldn't have gone on and one about this book so your expectations wouldn't have been so high. LOL but I can't help it! I tend to become overly enthusiastic when it comes to books that I love. I was surprised by how much I loved Code Name Verity because it's different from the rest of EWein's novels. It makes me happy that this one has been getting a lot of buzz in the blogosphere.

  16. Heidi says:

    Haha, NO, I am so glad that you did go on and on! Like I said, if it wasn't for the amazing reviews I read from people like you and The Book Smugglers, I wouldn't have even noticed this one. I agree, they hype monster can suck, but I don't think that it ruined anything for me at all. Everyone's done such a fantastic job of NOT spoiling this book. And while I may have expected some bigger twists because of the hush hush atmosphere, I was very happy with what I found!

  17. Jamie says:

    I've seen this book being mentioned a lot lately but honestly had NO clue what it was about! lol. This looks like a MUST READ for me. Sounds right up my alley! You have piqued my interest for sure! – Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner/Broke and Bookish

  18. Heidi says:

    Thanks, Jamie! This is really a must read for anyone who likes historical fiction, it is absolutely wonderful.

  19. I’m sitting here trying to get started on my review of Code Name Verity and having such a hard time, as I usually do with a book that blew me away as this book did. So I thought I’d hit a couple of my favorite blogger’s sites and read up a bit on their thoughts. This review is LOVELY. And I think you really stated it perfectly when you talked about fear and and how it really is all relative in the end. I am not one for books on the Holocaust, prison/ concentration camps, or genocide in general. Like you, after growing up with stories like The Diary of Anne Frank, it is just sometimes too much for me. But when I heard about Code Name Verity, I knew instantly I wanted to read it, if for nothing more than to witness the friendship between the two main characters. It wasn’t an easy read at times, but in the end I’m so glad I did. Splendid review, Heidi:)

    • Heidi says:

      Thank you so much, Heather! I’m so glad that you loved Code Name Verity as much as you did. I completely understand the difficulties of writing reviews for the books that affect you most, I myself didn’t really know where to go with this one. I STILL haven’t written a review for one of my favorite books this year because it’s just too good for words.

  20. […] for: Anyone who likes strong female characters and historical fiction, girls who dress as boys, Code Name Verity, the Civil War and spies. Get a second opinion: Diary of an Eccentric Teen Reads The […]

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.