I have just returned from the medieval city of Florence, where only one ancient bridge remains of the many that once spanned the river Arno. The reason? German bombing as they retreated from Italy near the end of World War II. Before leaving for Europe, I had consumed Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity in one sitting. Like the story of Florence's surviving Ponte Vecchio, it plunged me back to a time when danger and destruction were the stuff of daily life. Wein's novel boasts not one, but two heroines. "Queenie" is good with languages, Maddie with machines. Both are fascinating, resourceful, and intrepid. Although the ordeals they face as they carry out their covert missions in occupied France would make most of us cower, their fictional exploits are no more incredible than those of the actual Allied agents who inspired them. (Click here for an article on the author's research. She is a pilot herself, which accounts for much of the book's verisilimitude.)
This is a rare young adult novel entirely about female power and female friendship, with only the faintest whiff of cute-boy romance. I’d tell you more about the “Usual Suspects”-meets-“If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” plot, but then I’d have to kill you. I do think “Code Name Verity” will appeal more to adults than to teenagers.Salon's Laura Miller honed in on that theme as well:
Wein has written a puzzle novel whose cleverness never overwhelms its spirit and heart. Although published as YA (Young Adult) fiction, it’s a bit of an odd duck in the genre. Its accounts of Nazi torture and death camps are serious and frank (and, it should be added, quite true to the fates of the many brave young people, male and female, who fought for the French Resistance), which will make it too disturbing for some youthful readers. And there’s no dreamy romance, a apparent requirement in YA books for girls these days.Wein's plucky heroines have even engendered a rash of fan art, as in the samples below.
Instead, “Code Name: Verity” is about female camaraderie and valor. Maddie and Queenie, who meet in the service, instantly cross class divisions to become best friends. It wasn’t just romances that broke the rules during wartime, after all. Maddie marvels at Queenie’s improvisational daring and Queenie views Maddie’s piloting talents as a pure and beautiful art that transcends the dirty expediencies of war. For all the intricacies of its plotting, this novel is rooted in character.
I AM A COWARD. I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending. I spent the first twelve years of my life playing at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers—and even though I am a girl, they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to be one of our ancestors, because I did the most rousing battle speeches. God, I tried hard last week. My God, I tried. But now I know I am a coward. After the ridiculous deal I made with SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden, I know I am a coward. And I'm going to give you anything you ask, everything I can remember. Absolutely Every Last Detail.