Friday, September 21, 2012

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

This story, about two young women, a Scottish spy and an English pilot during World War II Nazi-occupied France, pulled me in, yanked me around, and left me feeling breathless. The narrative begins in Queenie's point of view, as she writes to literally save her life as a prisoner of war in a French hotel that's been converted into a place of torture by the Nazis. Queenie oscillates between recalling what she knows of the wireless operators working for the resistence and Ally forces--including their codes, locations, and activities--and details about her torment as a prisoner. As a once refined, uperclass student at Oxford, Queenie employs literary devices to dramatize her story for her captors, writing more than required. She also needs to write, to help her deal with her terrifying situation and to return to a time when she was still with her best friend, Maddie.

Maddie, the English pilot, is not refined. At a time when women were discouraged from flying--used only as a last resort--she just wanted the opportunity. Raised by grandparents who own a motorbike store, Maddie has her own motorbike (and independence) and quickly learns how to work on engines. Once her talents are recognized, she quickly becomes the go-to pilot for a French resistence unit flying by moonlight on secret airfields getting people in and out of the country, not far from where her best friend is being held captive.

I don't want to give too much away, but the story continually surprises to the very end while it simultaneously pulls at your heartstrings. The attention to detail--historical, geographical, and mechanical--was sometimes difficult for me to follow, and I would think a teen would have even greater difficulty. I also worry the details about torture might be hard on some teen readers. I often thought while reading that the novel may be more suitable for adults. But maybe I'm not giving young people enough credit.

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