Monday, December 31, 2012

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Every summer our family would pack the car and head West to a National Park for holiday. My husband and daughter have built-in GPS brains that can't get lost if they try, while my brain is a mass of tangled wires that has more in common with Peter Pan's Lost Boys. The running joke between my husband and daughter is to ask me which way to go and then crank the wheel in the opposite direction once I reply before laughing wickedly. I am consistently and amazingly wrong every single time I try to guess which way to go. I have told my husband I would never be able to do this overseas gig because I'd be lost in the wrong country with the wrong ID. Kind of like Verity in this story. Except she got caught by the Gestapo because of her lack of direction.

Let me be clear that this book isn't appropriate for elementary kids. Stories about the Holocaust are always upsetting and horrible for me. This story is no different. It begins with Verity being tortured although she makes light of it and not until we get to Maddie's point of view do we see how cruelty of Verity's torture. And others. Heads are cut off, people shot, burned, tortured... the brutalities of war yank emotions up and down like a yo-yo. Ugh. I had many a headaches trying to not cry. I wished I had known that going into the reading. Part of the problem is there are some great plot twists and trying to discuss the book threatens to give away the surprises.

No doubt, this is a well-written story with terrific characters and a complex plot. Verity is a special operation agent and has been captured by the Gestapo for looking left (very British) when crossing the street in France. She happens to be Scottish but good with languages and difficult to place ethnically. She grew up wealthy and well-educated and in-between bouts of being tortured she is forced to write a confession. As long as she writes she knows she can remain alive.

Verity refers to herself as Queenie and the confession introduces her best friend, Maddie, a commoner who would have never been friends with her except that the war breaks down classes, an interesting theme explored throughout the novel. The Commander Von Linden, whom she compares to Captain Hook, is educated and admires her writing craft saying it is "making use of suspense and foreshadowing." None of the villains are one-dimensional and the complexity of characters are a great strength in the novel. The point of view adds interest as well because it changes from first to third person and allows for the reader to see Verity from others making her a well-rounded character.

References to Peter Pan and other famous classic literature are riddled throughout the pages. They add a unique depth to the plot. I've mentioned Peter Pan but there is also, Edward Lear, Shakespeare, Mademoiselle Defarge from a Tale of Two Cities, Rudyard Kipling, Scheherazade from Arabian Nights, Little Princess, Alice in Wonderland, George Orwell, and all the ones I missed. The historical references about too to Scottish history and the use of the WWII British propaganda campaign that used the slogan "Careless talk costs lives" is ironic. The references are well-done and don't stand out or interrupt the story's flow. They add a depth and irony to many of the scenes alluding to the classic and oftentimes making the theme stand out even more, such as Verity/Queenie being the Peter Pan of the story who is trapped and isolated in Neverland being tortured by Captain Hook. Or when Von Lindon calls her, Scheherazade, the woman in the Arabian nights who must tells stories every night to prevent the king from murdering her. The stories changed the heart of Scheherazade's husband; will they change the heart of the nasty Von Linden?

I did glaze over when Maddie went into great detail on her beloved airplanes. This adds to the rich historical setting but it was too much for me at times and I confess I skimmed those parts. If you love planes then you won't mind a page and a half of descriptions of different fighters or the mechanical guts of them. I wish I was more detail-minded but my tangled wires go limp when it comes to machines. 

Themes abound of friendship, courage, mercy killing, women's rights, harassment, torture in war, survival, and heroism. I was never quite sure of Verity's age but my guess was she is in her 20's. Again. Details. Harumph...

Young Adult
4 out of 5 Smileys

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