I’m not sure why I put off reading Code Name Verity, the new historical novel from Elizabeth Wein that was published last month. I’d heard good things about it, and I’d had the galley for awhile. But a story about two English girls during World War II, one of whom has been captured by the Gestapo, sounded like something that might end in tears, and the cover didn’t help, with its picture of two arms bound at the wrist with twine and “verity” spelled out in blood-red type. So not a beach book.
Then I started reading it Sunday during a rain delay in the French Open finals, and just as well the match was eventually postponed. “I am a coward.”
I couldn’t put it down. “I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was.”
Really, I think I carried it into the kitchen to get another Diet Coke “I have always been good at pretending.”
I finished it as the evening news came on. Even then, I half-expected a report on the Nazi occupation of France and RAF missions over the Channel. I was still in 1943 with Verity.
Of course, that’s a code-name. Her friends call her Queenie, because she comes from a family of aristocratic Scots with their own castle. Really, if it hadn’t been for the war breaking down class barriers she’d probably never have met Maddie, whose Russian grandfather has a bike shop near Manchester. The two would never have become best friends, “a sensational team” until a mission to France goes awry, with spy Queenie parachuting early into enemy territory and pilot Maddie crash-landing their plane.
I’m not going to tell you a lot more because it would spoil a plot so cleverly constructed that you race through the book as if running pell-mell through the woods, no time to stop and look at the trees much less picture the forest.
Queenie is writing for her life, confessing “absolutely every detail” to a Gestapo captain and his henchwoman in exchange for no more torture and a few more days before her inevitable fate. She’ll give up codes, locate airfields, detail all the planes Maddie flew. Just keep her in ink and paper — creamy hotel stationery from the chateau-turned-prison, a Jewish doctor’s prescription pad, sheet music from a vanished student. She is alternately terrified, impudent, rebellious and self-deprecating as she writes about herself in the third-person from Maddie’s point of view, mostly because she can’t stand to think about her old self, “so earnest and self-righteous and flamboyantly heroic.”
I’m going to stop now. There are only so many times I can reread certain phrases, like quotes from Peter Pan, or “Fly the plane, Maddie,” or “Kiss me, Hardy!” without scaring the cat with my sobs. And that’s the truth.
Open Book: I read a digital galley of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (Hyperion via NetGalley). It’s being marketed as a YA book, but like John Green’s recent The Fault in Our Stars, it should reach a wide crossover audience.