Friday, September 21, 2012

What We're Reading: Historical Fiction

Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein
332 pages
Realistic, historical
Stand-alone novel
High school + (is this really a YA novel?)

Reviewed by Anarda

S U M M A R Y :
Julie is a storyteller, but not by her own volition. She’s been captured behind enemy lines during the last days of World War II, and she’s being treated as a spy—one who could be, and probably will be, “disappeared,” which means sent to a prison where she will be experimented on, and then shot, if she isn’t first tortured to death in the small French town of Ormaie. She spoke French like a native and loved German, “das Land der Dichter und Denker” (land of poets and thinkers), and received her degree in German; no wonder she was enlisted to help the British war effort, no wonder they trained her to infiltrate the enemy, no wonder the Germans have a gun to her head, wire wrapping her ankles to the chair, a burning cigarette mark...well, you get the picture. But no, sorry, you don’t.

For this is a story not only about Julie. It is also about her friend, Maddie, a young woman quite unlike Julie in background and aptitude, but who soon becomes Julie’s best and only girlfriend, and the unlikely second heroine of this book. The Germans demand that Julie tell them where the British air bases are and where they keep their planes, so in fear and in physical pain Julie agrees to write out everything she knows. But what she writes, on whatever scrap paper the Nazis can scrounge up for her in this battleground of torture and wit, is Maddie’s story, an unexpectedly tender story about a gifted pilot, a young woman whose fearlessness and talent convinces the male authorities for the British air force to allow her to work in air transport. Julie also writes down the story of “Queenie” (Julie herself), who’s increasingly clandestine and dangerous path crisscrosses with that of Maddie during the siege of Britain. As their stories combine, the Nazi officials (and the reader) are taken on an amazing journey of friendships forged in the furious, chaotic fires of war.

R E V I E W :
I loved this book for a variety of reasons, not least being that it is extremely well written and researched, though it is not factually based on specific people during the second World War, barring one interesting American. I felt I knew these two young women, Maddie and Julie, intimately, and I felt privileged to know them, and about their lives, hopes and dreams. As the story got closer to the time period of Julie’s capture and incarceration, I felt my heart breaking. When the story is taken over by Maddie, about two-thirds of the way through the book, I found I could not put it down, regardless of the hour. I read the book in two sittings, which is not typical for me. I simply put my life on hold while I read, reflected, read some more, and cried.

The cover is a bit frightening: It shows a pair of hands, clasped and roped together. It’s not a bad description of the exterior of Julie’s existence as she writes her treasonous notes for the Nazis.

It’s a 5.

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Really cool book trailer here. And Elizabeth Wein's website here. She's pretty interesting--her hobbies include bell ringing (yes, it's a "thing"--mostly in England) and piloting planes around Scotland. Click on Young Adult Novels (at left) and see what else she wrote. Anarda liked this one so much...maybe her others are amazing as well! (though very different, it looks like, based on Arthurian legend). It seems that we have the sequel but not the original of her other books...we will have to do something about that! Stay tuned...

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