Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Thursday, January 31, 2013 7:17 PM
Title: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Published: February 6, 2012
Publisher: Hyperion
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Pages: 343
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
“It's like being in love, discovering your best friend.”
―Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

Two young women become unlikely best friends during WWII, until one is captured by the Gestapo. Only in wartime could a stalwart lass from Manchester rub shoulders with a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a special operations executive. Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly and before long become devoted to each other.

But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in “Verity’s” own words, as she writes her account for her captors. Truth or lies? Honour or betrayal? Everything they’ve ever believed in is put to the test…(Goodreads)
My Thoughts
Code Name Verity is a challenging book to review. By the end of the book, so much has happened, that you are left reeling in the aftermath, finding it difficult to even articulate your feelings. This book was what I expected, and, at the same time, the complete opposite. Wein tells the story of a friendship between the most unlikely pair, a Brit and a Scot from entirely different classes. Despite their differences, they become the closest of friends. Their enduring friendship is what makes Code Name Verity stand out in the young adult genre. Instead of heavily focusing on a romance, as most young adult books do, Wein centers the plot around a strong, solid friendship. There are a few hints at romance, but they fade into the background and are not significant plot points unlike Verity's and Kittyhawk's indomitable bond.

When it comes to Verity and Kittyhawk, you couldn't find two better heroines. They are strong, courageous, and even feisty. No matter what they suffer, their friendship remains steadfast. It is wonderful to see a different side of WWII. War novels often concentrate on the men in action and neglect to mention the women who played a key role as well. I admire Code Name Verity for bringing two women into the spotlight and not ignoring the importance of their actions. They are just as integral a part of the fighting force as any man.

I have to congratulate Wein for crafting such a brillant story that unfolds slowly but skillfully. I will admit that the first half of Code Name Verity, actually more like 3/4, of the book can be frustrating and even painfully dull to read. Verity's side of the story is directed towards an audience that is uninterested in country outings or cherished memories between friends (though Verity does slip a few of these into her account). Verity is writing for the Gestapo, and her entries can be very technical, detailing aircrafts and their mechanics. As you can imagine, Verity's intricate descriptions of planes are boring, but they do lend some authenticity to the story and show that the author knows her stuff. We are talking about the Gestapo. They're going to want to know these things even if the reader is falling asleep. It was slow-going, but I did enjoy hearing about Maddie and Verity and how their friendship grew in the most unexpected ways.

My main issue, and this is when the populace cries out in shock, lies with the unreliable narration. While I admit this is a genius technique, leaving the reader questioning the narrator's every statement until the great unveiling, it always leaves me feeling distanced from the characters. In order to be truly immersed in a story, I need that connection with the characters, especially the protagonist. Unfortunately, I felt almost nothing for the characters in Code Name Verity, and I'm usually someone who bawls when reading upsetting parts. Heart wrenching, emotional scenes left me unaffected because that deep connection was never developed from the start. There was no way of knowing if Verity was telling the truth or not, and this left me feeling like I never got to know her until the end. Once again, the unreliable narration is fitting for this book, but it's not my cup of tea. I had similar problems with The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. If I feel nothing for the characters, the book leaves almost no impression on me. While I can recognize the book for its quality writing and magnificent plot, I can simply walk away from it without it influencing me in the slightest.

If you are a lover of historical fiction and have no problem with an unreliable narrator, then I would highly recommend Code Name Verity. It is well-done and gives a refreshing perspective on wartime.



  1. Aww, I'm so sorry this didn't work out for you! (I'm actually more distraught that The Thief didn't work out for you! Will you please give The Queen of Attolia a try? It's told in third person, so the next books in the series don't have unreliable narrators and it is SO GOOD! I really think you'd love it if you gave it a shot...).

    I do understand your issue with unreliable narrators though. I think the reason why I was okay with it in this novel was because Verity wasn't telling US her story, she was telling it to the people who were imprisoning her and as such, she had to make it seem like the truth. I think that's where the brilliance of it shone through for me and with Kittyhawk's PoV, I was able to form those bonds I wanted to form. Plus, a lot of Verity's lies were steeped in truth, which made it easier as well. I do see where you're coming from, though, and I'm sorry this didn't work out for you! Perhaps some other historical fiction down the line will. Amazing review, Courtney! You did a great job really explaining why this book wasn't your cup of tea! :)

    1. Thanks Keertana! I still enjoyed the book and recognized it for its brilliance. It was just that one thing which kept me from loving it entirely.

      I actually have read The Queen of Attolia, and I liked it more than The Thief. I need to finish the last two books in the series. :/ So many books, so little time. I admire these authors for employing such a genius, risky technique, but for some reason, it has been lost on me. I don't know why. It's a shame because I know so many people appreciate unreliable narration. And I will definitely be reading more historical fiction! I love this genre, and I need to read more of it.


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