Love the smart spy stuff? Love the semi-recent historical stuff? Even if you are only a fan of one or the other, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is a super find that will appeal to teens and adults who enjoy an intellectual, fabulously plotted story.
The book opens with young British special operations officer Queenie (not her real name) having been captured by the Gestapo in German-occupied France. She has been through rounds of interrogation and torture, and knows that death awaits her at the end of this horrifying imprisonment. That is what the British would do to the spies they catch, after all. In exchange for a stay of execution and lesser torture, Queenie agrees to write a full confession of her knowledge of Britain’s war efforts. She decides to give her confession in the form of the story of Maddie, her best friend and the pilot who flew her to France in the first place, just before their mission went horribly wrong.
What follows is the story of a remarkable friendship between two young women whose paths never would have crossed had they not met in wartime. Queenie is a Scottish aristocrat, fluent in French and German, and Maddie is the scrappy granddaughter of a Jewish motorcycle salesman, who only wants to fly planes. Queenie’s “confession” is of course more than it seems, but not in an obvious way. The reader suspects this, but will be hard-pressed to put a finger on exactly what she is up to.
This book is richly layered, and will appeal on many levels. The historical details are accurate and the plot just plausible enough that the reader will find herself hoping beyond hope to find out at the end that it has indeed been a true story after all. Queenie has a complex relationship with her captor and chief interrogator, Hauptsturmfuhrer Von Linden. He is at the outset a cold Orwellian character, but he and Queenie find an intellectual common ground that gives depth to his character that the reader might not expect.
The last third of the book switches points of view, which I can’t elaborate on without giving away important plot spoilers, so suffice it to say that as with any good spy thriller, just when you think you have it all figured out…you don’t! Younger readers, or those who are not familiar with WWII from the British point of view may struggle with the dense details of Queenie’s narrative–the acronyms, titles and details of the British war effort are confusing (even for this adult). There are also many literary references (“A Thousand and One Nights” and Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim”) that will go over a young reader’s head, but there are just as many shout outs to the story of Peter Pan which will not.
So many reasons to pick this one up, under the guise (or not!) of previewing it for your teen. Beautiful friendship. Unparalleled bravery. Smart plot. Resistance fighters. Spies. Villains. Suspense. Tragedy. Girl power. Tears. Love.
Read it now. Then read it again.