Code Name Verity is a young adult historical fiction novel by Elizabeth Wein published in 2012. It was a Michael L. Printz Honor Book for 2013 and shortlisted for a Carnegie Medal.
When Maddie is unexpectedly dispatched to drop Julie in Nazi-occupied France for a special operation, she does so successfully, but subsequently crashes behind enemy lines.
One of the young women is picked up by the Gestapo. She is carrying Maddie’s identification, but claims to be Julie. The confession she gives is told more from Maddie’s point of view than from Julie’s. That confession, from the captured girl to the Gestapo agents interrogating her, comprises the first part of the novel.
We don’t find out what happened to the other one until much later, in the second part of the book, which consists of the log notes recorded by the other woman.
This approach to the points-of-view requires some suspension of disbelief. The spy’s “confession” reads like a spell-binding novel. The log notes of the other are recorded and kept on her person while she is trapped in occupied France trying to evade the Nazis.
Wein does an admirable job of explaining the characters’ psyches in ways that make it easier to believe, however. Ultimately I think it was worth it, because Wein’s approach delivers an intimacy and urgency to the characters’ experiences, emotions and relationships that could not have been otherwise conveyed. As a result, I more than willing to suspend my disbelief.
The writing is clean, engaging and conveys two distinct voices. The characters are smart, likable and strong—without being unrelatable. While there is no shortage of “stuff happening,” it is their interpersonal relationships that give the story its raw emotional intensity. And the stakes are oh, so very high…
There is a wealth of interesting information related to World War II. The British Air Transport Auxiliary, for example, had women pilots who received pay equal to their male counterpart and whose duties were anything but safe. As the novel tells us:
There is an ATA pilot killed every week. They are not shot down by enemy fire. They fly without radio or navigation aids into weather that the bombers and fighters call “unflyable.”
All of the details about what it was like to be a pilot during World War II—flying by sight, forbidden to use maps, facing the risk of blindly landing in enemy territory—were intriguing. The portrayal of British women yearning to support the war effort as pilots was compelling, and prompted me to do additional research about those real-life women after finishing the book.
I was also engrossed with the fixation on maps that runs through the novel. The British military and intelligence did not look kindly on even land-bound civilians carrying maps around as part of their daily lives.
In one scene, Julie convinces a Scottish farm woman to draw a map showing the girls how to reach a nearby pub on their bikes. When a British officer learns of this, he not only demands the map, but also wants to know where to find the woman who committed the infraction of drawing it.
In another scene, Maddie is taking a train somewhere and there are no route maps on the walls in the train stations. Instead, there are large signs saying: “If you know where you are, then please tell others.”
Directions given to pilots in the novel resemble the following:
You don’t need a map. Just fly this heading for as long as it takes to smoke two cigarettes. Then turn and fly the next heading for another cigarette.
Of course, all of this makes perfect sense. Any map, however casual, could fall into enemy hands.
It is just that I came of age in the time of inexpensive World Atlases, and have already all but forgotten the world before online and wireless device directions. To think that just decades ago, Germans did not know where things were in Britain, and vice versa. Perhaps Germans did not even know where many things were in Germany. They didn’t have Google Earth, guys! They didn’t even have paper maps! Such information has not always been so widely known or immediately available—and hence so mundane.
Code Name Verity was critically acclaimed and won several awards. After finishing it, I gave it as a gift, and would again. Five out of five stars.