CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 32 . . . . April 20, 2012
Despite these opening words Queenie, code name Verity, is anything but a coward. Her background is in the Scottish aristocracy, and thanks to her academic nature and excellent schooling, she is fluent in both French and German. As mentioned in the excerpt, she loves role-playing, and this stands her in good stead during her job as a wireless operator and later when a mission falls apart and she is captured in France by the Gestapo. Her interrogator, von Linden, asks her to write down everything she can recall about Britain’s war effort and, given the circumstances under which she must exist, Queenie agrees.
The second main character of the novel is Maddie, a young working-class woman from Manchester who has helped her father in his bike shop and whose mechanical abilities eventually lead her to become a pilot in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). It is because of their involvement in the WAAF that the two women from such different social classes meet and eventually become the best of friends whose stories are inextricably woven together.
To explain more of the plot of this novel would be to spoil it for potential readers. Suffice it to say that Wein takes her readers to a different time and place and makes history come alive. Wein has evidently carefully researched the roles of women in World War Two, the Royal Air Force and WAAF and their contribution to the war effort, the French Resistance and life in France during the German occupation. However, this is far from a dry historical book of facts. Wein’s characters show strength and bravery in the face of danger and incredible resilience despite what happens to them. Queenie’s code name may be Verity, but is she entirely truthful in her dealings with von Linden and the information she provides? Maddie’s expertise is as a pilot, but she exhibits bravery and intelligence in entirely different circumstances when called upon to do so. The friendship between the two main characters is such that each supports the other despite the high price which has to be paid. Their patriotism to their country and loyalty to one another are remarkable.
Wein’s novel begins in Queenie’s voice as she writes her ‘confession’ for von Linden in the form of a diary. However she switches to the third person when relating past events and what brought about Queenie’s friendship with Maddie. Although this sounds confusing, it is not difficult to understand once readers are engrossed in the novel. Two-thirds of the way through the book, Maddie becomes the narrator, and the saga continues. Wein handles this transition beautifully, and the voices of the two women are completely different yet absolutely identifiable and understandable.
Secondary characters are strong and provide the necessary historical background whether at an airfield in England, in the group of Resistance fighters, or in the Gestapo interrogation room. Wein is able to take what could be stereotypes and make them her own so that even the German characters and French collaborators inspire sympathy and understanding in readers despite the roles they play.
Two highly intelligent and brave female characters remain the focus of this novel, however, and the depth of their friendship is the axis around which the rest of the action moves. It is refreshing that the novel does not highlight any rivalry between Queenie and Maddie, nor does it depend on a romantic angle to frame the two women. They are strong and heroic women who are depicted as fiercely loyal to their country and willing to do whatever must be done in order to preserve the way of life they are sworn to protect.
How I wish I could give this book 5 stars out of 4! I occasionally encounter a novel that I never want to finish because leaving the characters and their world is just too difficult. I shall have to be satisfied in merely re-reading Code Name Verity. This is undeniably one of the best young adult books I’ve read in some time, and I do not hesitate to recommend it, not only to the age groups above but also to adults interested in the World War Two time period and not only to girls but also to male readers who will enjoy the action, the intrigue and the incredible story of just how far one might go to support and save a friend as much as their female counterparts. Don’t miss this book!
Ann Ketcheson, who lives in Ottawa, ON, is a retired teacher-librarian and former secondary school teacher of English and French.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.