Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Published February 6th 2012 by Egmont Press
Review copy received through Netgalley
People have assured me over and over again that Code Name Verity is different, that it’s amazing and nothing I’ve ever read before. Sounds to me like these people have never read a World War Two book before, because this is an exact copy of every WWII book/movie I’ve ever read/seen.
I won’t give a summary, since that inevitably spoils things (even though that first twist was so glaringly obvious that I didn’t even notice it was supposed to be a secret). Let’s just say that we meet a girl, that talks to the reader through writing. She’s held captive in France, and she is collaborating after weeks of torture in German hands. She recounts a story about Maddie and Queenie, and their adventures together.
I didn’t care for this style of writing at all. I feel like Ms Wein took one of the biggest WWII books, the diary of Anne Frank, and mashed it into a narrative featuring female spies and pilots. The way of describing things, the way they both talk about their diary/pieces of paper almost as if they’re real people, it’s both just so similar that it can’t be ignored. But where Anne’s account is heart-wrenching because this girl was real, Verity’s is flat, boring and uninteresting.
Ms Wein herself is a pilot. I guess that inspired her to write a book about pilots and planes. The thing is, even though I religiously watched Discovery Channel as a kid, and looked in awe at giant Boeings being built, I don’t like planes all that much. They’re just not something I’m interested in, neither am I interested in flying. It’s just another mode of transport, like a car. Sadly, in this book, flying is the shit. Approximately seventy percent of all the pages carry a mention of flying, planes, or flying planes. It might even be eighty – no lie. In this regard people that recommended Code Name Verity to me were right; I’ve never read this boring a book about planes.
The book is supposed to be all about a heart-wrenching friendship between two girls. The thing is, I didn’t even really believe that they were friends. It feels like they just randomly meet somewhere, talk for a bit, go on one outing, and then never see each other again but for some Very Important Happenings. That’s not friendship. There is some talk about them writing to each other, but no letters are shown. I would have liked the story way better if I could actually believe in their friendship. Now it just seemed like a weird obsession with each other. Why do they only think about each other? Why not about there family? Some other friends maybe? Their relationship didn’t make sense to me at all.
The worst thing about Code Name Verity is that it’s plain boring. To spice things up, Verity mentions being tortured. However, her way of recounting her torture is so laconic and indifferent that it disgusted me. But apart from that it’s planes, planes, some planes, and special missions. There is maybe one tiny interesting part in the entire book, but even that could have been abridged into a short story. That moment has been done before countless times in fiction as well (maybe movies more than books, but still) so even that wasn’t shocking for me.
I don’t think the book managed to convey the bleakness of life during WWII. Maybe the author tried to gloss over some things because it’s a young adult book, but if she did try to portay it, she didn’t do a very good job. Maybe it’s because I’ve already been in contact with so many WWII stories and especially movies like Zwartboek and The Pianist, that Code Name Verity seems so incredibly tame in comparison.
Only read Code Name Verity if you’re not familiar with other WWII fiction. And only read it if you instantly fall in love with anything featuring a female pilot and a female spy, because in the end that’s the only thing this book boils down to.
I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.
That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.
He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.
We are a sensational team.
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