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Code Name Verity: Espionage, Resistance, and Best Friends

Updated on April 30, 2013

Queenie, a captured British spy in World War II-era Occupied France, has been tortured into revealing 11 sets of code for Resistance wireless radios. Now, knowing she'll be declared a collaborator and with only 2 weeks until she's executed as an enemy agent by the Nazi authorities, she has been given some paper and a pen and told to write down anything she knows about the British war effort. And Queenie will do that, but only by weaving the details into the story of her friend Maddie, the pilot who flew her to France and who may very well have crash landed and died soon after Queenie parachuted into occupied territory. As "Code Name Verity," a 2012 young adult novel by Elizabeth Wein, proceeds, Queenie proceeds to tell the story of her friendship with Maddie, even as the threat of further torture or death becomes increasingly more imminent. But is Queenie truly defeated, or does her story have another agenda entirely?

It is very hard to talk about the plot of "Code Name Verity" without giving away spoilers (technically even the title is a spoiler), so I will endeavor to talk as little about it as possible, because this is the sort of story it pays to go in as blind as possible. Which is not to say the story is dependent on its plot twists, but the twists make reading the story the second time all the more fascinating an experience.

The center of the book is the friendship between Queenie and Maddie, which is totally believable. Both are women who have come alive thanks to the opportunities provided by the war, with the brash Queenie constantly taking refuge in the sheer audacity of the schemes she pulls while the more timid Maddie is able to show a sense of determination to achieve as much as it is possible to achieve. It is easy to see how the two came to admire each other, and the scenes of their interaction as they are depicted in the writing really demonstrates their chemistry together.

The subtle feminism of the book is also well done. While it may seem improbable that women could serve as airplane pilots or spies during World War II Wein creates a very plausible scenario for both to have occurred (and back it up with sources mentioned in her afterword), and both Queenie and Maddie are shown to be extremely competent at their jobs, while simultaneously being very human characters. The book doesn't need to scream its point for the message to be received loud and clear.

The book also doesn't spare us any of the horrors of Nazi-occupied France. Queenie details all of the terror and horror of what happened to both her and Resistance members imprisoned in the same Gestapo prison as her. Her revulsion at the mere mention of the word "kerosene" may very well be transferred to the reader by the end of the book. The book also doesn't spare the reader from grief: horrible things happen to good people, and I would be astonished if the majority of people who read this book don't weep at at least one scene in particular.

All in all this book is amazingly well written, emotionally effective, and centered around two incredible young women who are excellent. I fully expect this book to be talked about years in the future, and I definitely recommend that anyone who comes across it should check it out as soon as posssible.

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