Dystopia, fantasy and science fiction crowd the YA shelves these days, but Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein’s astonishing new World War II novel, is a reminder of the power historical fiction can have in the hands of an accomplished author. Set in Great Britain and occupied France both before and during the war, Code Name Verity is a complex story of friendship and courage.
As the novel opens, “Verity” has been captured by the Gestapo behind enemy lines. “I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was,” she begins. We soon learn that she has made a deal with her captor to write down every last detail she knows. As she pens her story, he will return her clothes, piece by piece. In exchange, he will get wireless codes, details about airfields in Great Britain and Verity’s own story.
And what a story it is: Writing on whatever paper is given to her, Verity tells the story of her friendship with Maddie Brodatt, who, as a female pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary, brought Verity to France. As in the tale of Scheherazade, Verity’s captor appreciates her rich storytelling, but in the end he does not hold the power to determine her fate. In the second part of the book, Maddie takes up the suspenseful tale, while the action builds to an unforgettable encounter between the two friends.
Elizabeth Wein is a pilot herself, and her passion for flying and the details of piloting and caring for a small plane add depth and authenticity to this complex, thoroughly researched novel. She also includes a historical note and a bibliography.
As we have learned with books like The Hunger Games, “YA” and “middle grade” may be convenient labels, but they don’t limit the audience for good books. Yes, we can call Code Name Verity a young adult book. But this sophisticated and compelling novel is likely to find a home on the shelves of teens and adults alike.