“Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.
When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?”
I received an ARC of this novel some time ago; the packaging was wonderfully done, hinting at the nature of the story that unfolds in its pages. I kept the Kraft paper wrapping, the twine, but set the book aside, thinking it unlikely that I would pick it back up. The reason is a bit more complicated than I’m about to let on, but essentially is tied up in the war aspect of the novel. For reasons of my own, I instinctually flinch away from stories that are set during (or examine the aftermath of) a real-world war, and while the overwhelmingly positive buzz surrounding Code Name Verity prompted me to gird myself against it and dig in, you should know upfront that my aforementioned…aversion, I guess, though that seems too strong a word, colored my response to the book. Perhaps I was naïve to think that the friendship so many readers loved and commented on could and would balance out the war – as that was the case with Something Like Normal, if for different reasons – but…I had to give it a try. (And, anyway, it’s good for me to step outside my comfort zone now and then.) So. After that much-longer-than-I-expected-it-to-be preface, a simple question: Did I “like” the book? Yes, and I’ll get to the reasons why in a bit. But I didn’t love it; I didn’t finish it and immediately want to gush, pushing my copy into the hands of any and all passers-by. And I didn’t cry at the end; instead, I struggled with thinking myself unfeeling for not being as moved as others so clearly were. You might say my relationship with this one was…complicated.
First, I’ll add my voice to those saying the book is well-crafted. The plotting is intricate, seamlessly done, and only after the novel is finished can it fully be appreciated. That last bit is good to know, or so I thought, because it kept me motivated to see the book out to its conclusion. And the writing, well, I found myself lingering over Wein’s descriptions of the landscape, characters, and other sundry things, because they were highly visual and so often lovely. Like this, taken from my uncorrected ARC:
“I am putting this down…because it proves that I know what I’m talking about when I describe what it was like for Maddie to be alone at the top of the world, deafened by the roar of four winds and two cylinders, with all the Cheshire plain and its green fields and red chimneys thrown at her feet like a tartan picnic blanket.”
Had I Post-it Notes on hand or scrap paper to rip into strips while I read, the book would be peppered with them, all marking a sentence or passage that made me want to close my eyes to sketch out the scene in my mind, to give it a moment to play out like a silent movie before returning my attention to the words. I liked the book for that reason, and because both Verity and Maddie were strong characters and did intrigue me (and, as an aside, I adored Jamie).
Beyond that is where my thoughts become harder to articulate. I’ll start with an easy to pinpoint issue then: the first three quarters of the novel went by at a snail’s pace for me. I’d look up hours after having set myself down with the book and realize that I hadn’t gotten very far at all. For a relatively fast reader, I felt the slow pace all the more keenly, likening it to walking through hip-deep mud with gale force winds pushing at me with every step. It was…frustrating. The way the first half of the story is told and the very nature of Verity’s plight (which speaks directly to the I-don’t-read-war-novels piece from above) also, I suspect, had something to do with the slow pacing.
Seeing as how this bit of plot is covered in the summary, it’s not giving anything away to say that events during the first portion of the novel are related to the reader through a series of papers Verity is writing for her captors. For me, this device had the effect of dropping a glass wall between myself and the characters. I wasn’t a part of the story, living it alongside Verity and Maddie; I was reading about it. As a result, some of the urgency was stripped away. Also, I think I reinforced that glass wall simply because of what was happening to Verity in the background of her account, things she hints at and mentions while never revealing so many details about as to truly make me sick at the thought of it. Queasy, yes, and that’s bad enough. (I can’t explain that last line or two, not without spoiling things, and that’s not how this book should be experienced. [Though you could hazard a guess and would likely be correct.]) That wall is likely the reason why the ending didn’t strike me with the same force it did other readers. I cared, absolutely, and maybe the wall cracked, but…When it comes down to it, I just can’t clinically explain the emotions – or lack thereof – I experienced as events spun out in the last quarter or so of the book.
Even more than usual, this post is subjective; so many personal factors entering into the mix. It feels as though, if you haven’t read the novel prior to reading this post, I should urge you to disregard everything I’ve said here. At least until after you’ve tackled Code Name Verity for yourself. But if you have read it and, like me, didn’t feel the same love for it that others did…Maybe it helps to know you aren’t alone.