Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein: The spy that made me cry

Before I begin my review, I'm placing a big fat spoiler alert on it.  As per usual, I will never intentionally drop any bombs without fair warning.  But this book has such a major gasp-inducing reveal that essentially rewrites the entire prior story, that this is your major spoiler warning!  If you fully trust my judgment that this may be one of the best, if not the best, new books I've read this year (and maybe more, it is really that great!), then just stop reading and go and get at a copy right now!
If you're on the fence with my superior judgment skillz, just keep reading, judger.  I will do my very best not to spoil the story!

Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein
Disney Book Group: New York, 2012
Nook Copy: ISBN-13: 9781423153252

     It is 1943 and war is omnipresent in Europe.  It is the reason a young female British operative is being interrogated after crashing in Nazi-occupied France.  By her own admission in the first lines of the book ("I AM A COWARD"), uncertain that her pilot, her best friend, has even survived the crash, she has lost hope of escape and agrees to trade her knowledge in writing to forgo being tortured any further.  While at first glance this seem solidly to be a work of historical fiction, this complex, tightly wrought story is one of the strongest portaits of female friendship short of the real thing, and has a reveal that will have readers jaws on the floor and flipping back to look for clues.  While it is marketed to a YA audience, it will do best with sophisticated readers grades 10 and up, and will find a foothold with the adult audience.  It is strongly recommended to all high school and public libraries. 

In case you have short term memory loss and have forgotten what I said earlier: this is THE best, if not one of the best things I've read all year (perhaps even longer!), in total seriousness with no exaggeration.  Behold a tweet I made upon finishing:
Yes.  I cried in public on a park bench.  And then again on the subway platform the next day THINKING about it.  Girl Scouts honor here, I am not exaggerating - people in my neighborhood now think I'm crazier than the hobo that normally occupies that bench.  It should come with a "has been known to make people cry in public" disclaimer on the cover.  This book is truly fantastic.  Get at it immediately!

It should probably also be required reading for dudes mystified by ladies and lady friendships.  At its core, it is a story of the strength and power of female friendship, and our love for our dearest friends.  The truth in this line slays me: 

It's like falling in love, finding your best friend.
British cover
Da-yum.  Let's just pause here, because I'm getting misty again.  Truly, what wouldn't you do for a best friend?  The words of Meatloaf kind of don't apply when it comes to your best friends (and yes, I realize there are exceptions, duh).   Best ladyfriends, I truly, madly, deeply do love you.  But you already knew that, because I send you weird texts and links, and then make you overeat with me.  I love the sweetly hilarious scene in which Queenie befriends Mattie, cowering in fear beneath her umbrella during an air raid - inside a bomb shelter - by asking to join her.  In truth, this novel feels authentic.  It is a testament to the strength of her writing that Elizabeth Wein finds the humanity in times of war, on both sides.  They (Nazi's, Brits, French) are all people, and are all pushed to do things and make decisions we would blanch at in times of peace.  Wein's attention to detail is meticulous; she clearly spent an enormous amount of time researching the RAF and World War II history.  I could go on about characters, about attention to detail, about word choice, about the brilliance of having everything in front of you and seeing nothing, but I don't want to risk any spoilers, so I'll wrap up.

I have but one quibble: what is with the horrible cover, Hyperion.  Seriously, who wants to pick this up?  It is kind of weird, kind of fug, kind of creepy, kind of boring.  It does not scream: this is the best book you will read in a long time.  Are you trying to keep this book full of secrets a secret?  If so, well done.  If not try harder with the paperback.  You too, British copy - I won't even bring up your misleading cheesy romance novel soft-touch fades.  Oops, I just did.  End quibble.

In case I haven't been convincing enough, let me just reiterate one more time: this book is incredible.  


Espana said...

This is the kind of book you'll be gifting to all of your friends this year. I know I wish I could read it again for the first time, because it was so gripping I never wanted to put it down, and I finished it all too quickly. It's so pleasing to see a book with such a fresh, well-researched subject and without any androids, totalitarian government (or, at least, not a made-up, dystopian one), or computers. This is a part of history I've never seen treated before in novels or textbooks, and Verity shares with you her love of flying and intrigue, without assuming you know everything about flying a plane.

PaperblogPrincess said...

Espana, you are right. I am totally gifting it to all my friends, and I do wish I could relive rereading it for the first time! There are soooo soo many books about the roles of men in WW2, but not that much about the contributions of women. I was glad to read about it!

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