Code Name Verity has made the rounds on Cannonball since its publication. I read a lot of books about WW2 and enjoy well written YA Fiction so it seemed like a perfect match to my tastes.
We’re all friends here so I am going to be perfectly honest with you.
I almost quit this book.
A few times.
I am so glad I did not.
Unfortunately I can’t properly explain my initial reaction or my wholehearted turnaround without giving away the plot. So I shall do what the spies do and write in invisible ink.
“I am no longer afraid of getting old. Indeed I can’t believe I ever said anything so stupid. So childish. So offensive and arrogant. But mainly, so very, very stupid. I desperately want to grow old.”
We are introduced to a Scottish wireless operator who was captured in Nazi occupied France when her plane, flown by her best friend, Maddie, was shot down and she was forced to evacuate the plane by parachute. Queenie, our narrator, is of royal Scottish descent; she speaks French and German which made her ideal for the Special Operations Executive. Maddie, her best friend, was part of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force before joining Air Transport Auxiliary which essentially ferried people and non operational planes from airfield to airfield.
So Queenie is writing her story, a confession of sorts, after bartering with her interrogator and exchanging 11 sets of wireless code to get her clothes back as well as some paper.
I hated the third person narrative, referring to herself as Queenie throughout, and thought it was weird she was giving such insane, unnecessary details. Why was she writing what the Nazis did to her in a confession that only the Nazis would read? It also seemed strange that someone who was trained to be a spy would fold so quickly! Sure, she had some reservations but overall she sang like a canary. And she was our heroine? Oh Caitlin, you were had just like the Nazis.
Everything becomes clear in the second half of the story when Maddie becomes our narrator because in actuality Maddie survived the crash. The Resistance members meant to collect Queenie, real name Julie, and send fugitives back to England with Maddie had to think quickly about how to hide the damaged plane. They had shot an eavesdropping Nazi so the group staged the plane to look like a crash by setting it on fire. They completed the false narrative by adding eleven wireless sets and the dead German. They were then able to get photographs of the crash site back to the Nazis (who showed them to Julie). This was my turning point and by the time we were reintroduced to the American radio host I was completely blown away by my lack of faith in my fellow Cannonballer’s tastes.
Alive, but stranded in Ormaie, France, Maddie joins the Resistance while she awaits a ferry ride back to England. Her story goes farther than Julie’s and the ending is absolutely heart-wrenching.
Wein does a superb job of using the second part of the story to provide clarification by filling in some details that Queenie/Julie/Verity cleverly omitted or outright lied about as well as key developments that she would not have been aware of as a prisoner of the Gestapo. The use of Engel as a connection between the two narratives was masterful and unexpected I really can’t stress enough that this book needs to be read all the way through. I am anxious to reread this one in a year or two so I can properly appreciate its subtle genius.