Review of 'Code Name Verity' by Elizabeth Wein

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

tl;dr: 'Code Name Verity' is an excellent story that showcases the friendship between two young women during World War 2.

The story starts in England in the late 1930s. Verity & Maddie, the protagonists, are two young girls from different socio-economic classes. Maddie is part Jewish and from the working class. Verity is from the Scottish nobility. Maddie has an aptitude for machines and flying, while Verity has a talent for people and spying. They meet each other in the course of their training and become fast friends. During a mission in occupied France, Verity gets captured by the Gestapo while Maddie's fate remains unknown.

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The author uses an innovative writing style to tell the story. First, it is in the form of notes that Verity makes for the Gestapo. And later, it is in a journal that Maddie maintains. This style makes the book read a bit like Anne Frank's diary, with the constant fear of detection and torture hanging over the writer's head. Also, Verity writes about herself from Maddie's perspective. This 'third-person' approach helps maintain some mystery, as well as disguises some of the exposition. Overall, I liked this style, and it made sense in this book.

The characters are memorable and lifelike with Verity & Maddie being, of course, the stars of the show. In Verity's notes, she comes across as a weak individual, initially. She seems to be broken by the Gestapo torture. Verity is trading secrets for some marginal comfort and her life. Since this is at odds with the usual portrayal of a hero, it makes her character not so likeable. But as we continue to read more of these notes, we see the brutality involved in interrogating Verity. Her commitment and bravery start to come through. Learning about her life, friendship with Maddie, and her innermost thoughts, completes making her a hero, in our minds. Verity is easily one of the strongest, capable and sympathetic characters I have encountered. Maddie's character is equally well portrayed. We learn of her life and challenges through Verity's notes and later, from her own. The other characters, like Engel, Jamie, and Paul, are wonderful too. They have their strengths and flaws. For example, Paul is the soul of the Resistance, but he is an inveterate philanderer. Elizabeth Wein has taken the approach to peel off layers from a character, as the story progresses, and to let the reader discover their complexities, and inherent contradictions. This approach works exceedingly well in making the characters stick in mind.

'Code Name Verity' skirts the edge of 'Young' in 'Young Adult' with plenty of violence and other mature themes. The torture that Verity undergoes is brutal. While not overly explicit, the allusions are enough to get our imagination running amok. The brilliant portrayal of Verity's fear of the torture she undergoes, adds to the revulsion that we feel, at the tactics involved. 'Code Name Verity' is also not shy about showcasing the problems that Maddie & Verity face, in the male-dominated culture of the 1940s. Their abilities are dismissed continuously due to their gender, at their workplace in England. This discrimination continues in their interactions with the Resistance & Nazis in France, with the addition of sexual harassment as well. Our takeaway from Maddie's & Verity's story is the grit and resolve they have, to overcome these challenges.

At its core, 'Code Name Verity' is about two young women who defy the odds, their friendship and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. It is a fantastic story about friendship, a marvellous story about feminism, and a superb story about World War 2.

In conclusion, 'Code Name Verity' is one of the best books I have read. I highly recommend it.

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