I had originally intended to only review Elizabeth Wein’s upcoming companion novel to Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire. When I requested it, it was on the basis of all the good hype surrounding CNV, which I hadn’t actually read yet. After consideration, I decided I had better read the former book first, so that I could understand Rose Under Fire with the proper background knowledge in place. (Plus, I trust you guys. When you say something is good, it usually is good.) So, I bought CNV.
A week or so and two books later, I emerged from a reading world that had taken me in and made me part of it. It’s a world at war, a world that is forever changed from what it was before. I think part of me has been changed by reading these books, too. That is powerful reading.
I think it’s harder to review books that you feel strongly about because somehow the words just don’t seem enough. I used to feel that way about teaching certain books, too (for example, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the ending of which devastates me in a way I could never really get across to my students). I’ll try to explain how these books affected me, though, because even thinking about them now I start to feel the tears well up.
Code Name Verity introduces us to the character of Maddie, a young British girl who, having worked as a mechanic in her grandfather’s motorcycle shop, falls in love with airplanes. It’s the beginning of WWII and Maddie wants to help out the war effort, working first as a radio operator and later as a pilot for the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary), a civilian organization that ferries military aircraft between bases. Through her work she meets Queenie, a high-bred Scot with a fancy education and a flair for the dramatic. She and Queenie become fast friends, and together they embark on a dangerous mission that will have drastic consequences for both of them.
The story is slowly revealed through the account of Queenie as given to her German captors after she is imprisoned in occupied France. The reader never knows exactly what is truth and what is dissimulation–for much of the novel, we only get Queenie’s point of view. I don’t want to say too much more about the story because it would spoil some of the surprises that the book has in store, but suffice it to say that it kept me in suspense until the very end.
I loved Code Name Verity, and it made me want to learn more about the people, places and events that it describes. Wein helpfully includes a bibliography for those who want to read more, and I found myself fascinated by the (admittedly few) female pilots who served during WWII. Even if women weren’t allowed in combat, they played an important and often dangerous role in the work that they did. I’ll touch more on this is my review of Rose Under Fire next week, but I found both books to be solid works of feminist literature in that they not only highlight the contributions of women to what is considered to be a man’s field but are also ultimately about the incredible strength of female friendships. More on that later.
Code Name Verity is a book that swings you from light-hearted moments of female companionship and camaraderie to scenes of despair and heart-breaking loss. I found it moving and inspiring, and I recommend it highly.