Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
Pages: 327
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf


From Goodreads:

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.


You ARE the wind beneath my wings!
Ten Tissues on the Beaches Scale of Friendship

At first I really wasn't interested in this book. I mean, the bonds of friendship between two women? Where's the swoon in that? But not everything in life has to revolve around romance, and Code Name Verity is a perfect example of a book that does just fine without a swoony lead (though there is a smidge of romance with one of the women and a secondary guy...and it's very nice).

Now we're going to take a detour down my personal memory lane because this is the only way I know how to describe the friendship in Code Name Verity. Bear with me (or skip ahead).

When I was young I had a best friend and we were tight. At one point my mother remarked that we were like Barbara Hershey and Bette Middler in Beaches. I was the quiet Barbara Hershey character, my friend was a loud attention-grabbing singer. And, of course, just like happens in Beaches, I imagined our friendship spanning all of life's essential events like divorce, failed careers, and terminal heart disease (yes, this corresponded perfectly with my Lurlene McDaniel "Dying of cancer is the epitome of romantic" phase).

Little did my mother realize, but with that simple statement she sparked off my obsessive love with Beaches and the accompanying theme song Wind Beneath My Wings. Seriously, obsessed. I still tear up if I hear that song.

So now I judge the strength of all fictional friendships on the Beaches Scale of Friendship (1-10 Tissues with Ten Tissues being a perfect score of heart-breakingly amazing friendship. For another frame of reference, Anne Shirely and Diana Barry score a perfect 10, too).

Code Name Verity is easily a perfect Ten Tissues, which is saying something because I don't give out a perfect 10 lightly (even Harry, Ron, and Hermione, while very high, don't get a perfect 10). Code Name Verity begs the question, "What would YOU do for someone you loved?" and I wonder if I could do what they did.

Remember that sad ending?
I'm issuing the Do Not Read in Public warning

Ok, I admit it, I'm a tad emotional when it comes to reading. I tend to really get into things. And I cry, easily. But I don't think I've cried this much in a long time. Think Plain Kate kind of crying, but more. Think first pet dying kind of crying.

I cried here and there throughout most of the book, but mostly it was the kind of crying where I get a lump in my throat and kind of choke up a little but can pass it off as allergies just acting up a little and honestly I'm totally fine.

But then I pretty much sobbed straight through the final 50 or so pages. And at that point it was WAY past when I should have gone to sleep so I tried to force myself to fall asleep but instead I ended up crying for about another hour. And then I cried the next day. And then the day after that. Whenever I thought about everything that had happened, particularly THAT SCENE, I just lost it.

So there you go. You've been warned.

It's NOT a kissing book?!
Wait, I don't know if I like this genre

I'm a big historical fiction fan, but usually I don't like reading books set during WWII because they usually focus on one of two things: Hiding Jewish people in attics or women doing really anachronistic stuff (more on THAT later). The first subject is ok, but I think I pretty much got my fill of that in grade school.

Plus there was also the whole lack of romance factor and I was afraid I wouldn't like Verity because the blurb made it sound like she was a rotten traitor. So I wasn't really sure if Code Name Verity was for me.

But forget all that. Code Name Verity is genre transcending. It's like Lolita where, even though the subject matter is a guy who lusts after a little girl, you don't actually have to be into that to appreciate the book. Not that there's pedophilia in Code Name Verity (there isn't), it's just that, this isn't the kind of book where you can look at the blurb and decide whether or not the genre is for you.

Instead, you need to ask yourself if you like books that are powerful, heart-wrenching, and memorable. Books that creep up on you and before you know it they're a part of you. Books that make you feel and books that make you want to drop everything and make sure all your loved ones know how much you care for them. Books with impact. Books that go beyond.

I'm also issuing the Nabokovian Puzzle Prize

The whole first half of the book is written in code! And it's not a super obvious code either (but you can figure out most of it, and no, it's not quite Nabokov, but who is?).

There are red herrings galore and a ton of things are said but they actually mean something different. It was so much fun puzzling through all these bits and trying to discern Verity's true messages amid all of her storytelling and false leads.

There was also one bit that was major foreshadowing and as soon as I remembered it (right before THAT scene), my stomach dropped to the floor because I suddenly knew what was about to happen. That made it about a million times worse and heart breaking (and by worse, I mean awesome storytelling).

After Bilbo has his five hour long birthday, they go on a quest!
Give it time for the slow burn

This is a slow burn book, but the burn is a little hard to see at first. I can see how the beginning might turn readers off because it is slower and the point of it all isn't really clear for a while.

BUT, don't give up. Stick with it and I PROMISE it will all make sense. And once you get to THAT scene, well, you'll see.

Looks will only get you so far, Russell
But is it historically accurate?

I mentioned earlier that I really dislike it when authors put women in historically inaccurate roles, and with a female pilot as one of the main leads and a female spy as the other, I was really worried Elizabeth Wein was going to disappoint me.

But she didn't! She did her research (down to ball point pens!) and thankfully my eye never had to twitch.

Not only are the characters grounded in realistic roles, but I also appreciated that she focused on slightly different things than every other WWII book under the sun. Now, I'll issue another warning here, but really, if you're reading WWII books and if you saw my previous warning about not reading this book in public, well, you should pretty much expect disturbing stuff.

Because WWII? VERY disturbing. Elizabeth Wein doesn't even focus on the more usual WWII disturbing fare like starvation and battle that, as horrifying as they are, have lost a bit of sting due to the fact that we've been so exposed to them. Oh no, she brings the spotlight onto atrocities like torture, Nacht und Nebel and hints at the "scientific experimentation" crimes committed by Mengele and others.

Bottom line

I am absolutely in love with this book! It is firmly on my Special Shelf and as soon as I finished I added more of Elizabeth Wein's books to my TBR, because I need more. I'm such a character girl, and Elizabeth Wein totally delivers when it comes to crafting so-vivid-they-could-be-real characters.

Code Name Verity is also one of those YA books that can easily be read by adults (they may not even realize it's YA). I've already ordered a copy for my library with a particular adult patron in mind, and there's a waiting list of both YA and adult patrons after her (I gush even more about the books I love at work than I do on here, if you can believe it).

Because this is the kind of book I can't help but gush about. I want to buy a million copies and give them to everyone I know. I also made sure my mother and sister both added Code Name Verity to their lists and you'd better believe I'll be book pushering this one on all of you, too.

And why was my review so vague? Because you need to experience this book as it unfolds.

Code Name Verity is a standalone.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Code Name Verity that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

What is the saddest book you've ever read?
Which literary friendships score a 10 Tissues rating from you?

Code Name Verity releases today, No More Waiting!

Add it on Goodreads
Buy it on Amazon

Looking for another book with powerful relationships? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews/Goodreads.


  1. I'm hoping to start this one this week. I'm a little scared, but I don't want to miss it. I'm glad you think it is totally worth it. I'll come read your post again if I start to feel intimidated.

  2. Oh wow. Ok. I had seen this one around but hadn't heard much about it, and the synopsis was really vague & sounded... I dunno. But now?

    Definitely going to read this one. HOLY COW, but you convinced me :)

  3. See the female friendship is exactly what I am most looking forward to! I feel like not enough YA books focus on that and it makes me sad :( but I'm super excited about this one, hoping to read it by the end of the month or so...

  4. Wow! How cool. I definitely need to read this one. is there any romance at all?

    1. A teeny tiny romance that is more implied than not. But the rest of the book is so powerful that I didn't feel a lack at all.

  5. I don't think I can read this one. I might hide in the covers for days. I can only take so much crying. If you were still crying three days later, I'll be a total basket case. I'll email you and ask about THAT scene. I won't ever be able to read this one.

    The saddest book I read was Homeward Bound. When the boy thought his yellow lab didn't make it back. We had an older yellow lab, our first pet together, even before kids and I was reading the book aloud to my nephew. My husband and I were blubbering idiots by the end. I don't like animal books.

    I'm glad to see you liking a book so much. And it doesn't really seem like your type of book. I am very curious about it. But not enough to risk crying for days on end.
    That was a very convincing review. I like your Beaches tissues rating. I always felt the same about a friendship I had. I was Barbara Hershey as well.


    1. OH MY GOSH Heather!!!! That scene in Homeward Bound STILL makes me tear up!

      I'll email you all about THAT scene.

  6. Wow...This is definitely going to go on my to-read list now. Yay for SPECIAL SHELF!!! Lol. :D

  7. Oooh! Special shelf! I have been reading lots and lots of great things about this one, so I really need to get to it soon. I enjoy historical fiction, but I need to be in the right mood to read it, and right now I just seem to want to read summer contemps!

  8. Your reviews are so spectacular.....:)I just started this the other day and I cant believe how emotional it has been....ugh!!! I even had to stop reading for a bit cause I was all weepy. But Im going to finish it...its an unbelievable book.

  9. WOW. I've seen glowing reviews of this one but I think you're vague review knocks them out of the park. I'm excited to read this one and I'm thrilled that the book isn't your typical WWII flare as you mentioned. I agree with you that it's been overdone and well, virtually in every WWII book that's out there.

  10. I loved this book as well! It's nice to see a book that doesn't focus on the romance (and oh my gosh, I loved your Beaches reference... absolutely love that movie!!!!) This is definitely one that it took me some time to get into but Elizabeth's writing was absolutely beautiful!

  11. GREAT REVIEW! Ok, so I have it, it's downloaded, and I'm going to read it very soon! I have like 53 days left. I will read it. I'm dying to read it. I'm afraid that I'll be a sobbing mess of tears and depression but MY GOODNESS I can't wait to read it and see what you're talking about!! (BTW, Princess Bride picture made me giggle...as did all the pictures and their captions. Great touch!)

    I look forward to crying with you over this one.

  12. SMALL! I was a little bit intrigued by this one, curious about how the setting would play a role, and a little buzzed by the hype.


    You've made me 1,000% more excited to read it now. I'll just make sure I'm in the privacy of my own home while I read it. :)

  13. Oh, you have made me very excited to read this book! And I really wasn't, honestly. I don't know, I felt like it was too heavy a book, but now I'm excited about it.

  14. Ahh special shelf book! Makes me glad I grabbed it from Netgalley in spite of all the books I have to read!

    Honestly, the subject of WWII is what first made me want to read this, because I know it's going to be an intense read. Yes, I love books that make me feel! Hope it won't be too much for me though. I'm ready!

  15. Personally I do enjoy women friendship stories much better than romances. I'm more prone to reading non-fiction when it comes to the subject of WWII, but I will give this a try if I can find it.

  16. This is a perfect example of a book I'd usually turn my nose up at, especially becaue I don't like the cover. Then, there's the little issue about reading history fiction that I have. Now that you've told me about it and put it on your special shelf. Well, that means I must give it a chance. I'm pretty concerned because you said "Plain Kate" sort of sad, or losing your dog sort of sad. Uh-oh, that's really darn forelorn. You've more than sparked my interest. Nicely reviewed!

  17. PS: When I think of sad books I always seemed to fall back on Where the Red Fern Grows, a childhood favorite of mine.

  18. I saw this book around the blogosphere a lot, and I wasn't so sure about it. But wow, your review put it to me in a different light. Not looking forward to the crying, but I want to see how Wein moved her readers like she did.

    Thank you!

  19. I'm reading this one RIGHT NOW. And I can bear the slowness because I can sense there's going to be a whole heck of a lot more going on. I'm a little nervous. There's a reason why I was a little scared when my mom tried to push Beaches onto me. And I'm scared now. But I'm going to power through it and hope I love this book as much as you do.

  20. Wow. I've seen such iffy statements about this book across the web, but your review is very compelling. I remember the beauty of Beaches and I should watch it again soon. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume reminded me a lot of Beaches (though no where near as emotional), and it's one of my favorite chic-lit dramas.

  21. Agreed on historical accuracy! Looking forward to reading this. Love book set in WWII. But wow...it's a ten tissue kind of book? Aren't most WII and Holocaust books? Still...I'll read it even though I'll be needing a box of tissues next to me. Great review!

  22. This is unlike anything that I am used to reading and I think that, above all, is what has me interested. That, and your glowing reviews, obvs. I don't read a ton of historical fiction and now that I think about it, I'm having a hard time thinking about books with characters who would score a 10 on your Tissues rating (brilliant, by the way!). I didn't realize how many books I read where the protag is a loner until now, hmm... Anyways, the friendship sounds lovely and powerful. I'd be willing to have a cry-fest over it because it sounds like it is worth it.

  23. I have this book on my to be read list. I heard the publisher talk about it and even though I usually stay away from WWII books, this one sounds very interesting. I'm glad to hear you loved it so much!


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