- Rob Solka
Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity starts with something different and unexpected, a story’s protagonist, or hero, not being very heroic. Our protagonist, a young female British spy, is being held hostage in an aristocratic hotel in Nazi-occupied France. While other spies would withstand any amount of torture in order to protect their friends, family, and country, Code Name Verity’s protagonist, whose name and identity are a secret, begins by making a deal with the Gestapo. She will give them anything and everything they want to know, including writing the story of how she arrived in Nazi-occupied France, and, in return, they will feed her, clothe her, stop torturing her, and they will not kill her—for now.
Code Name Verity’s first chapter is certainly not the only thing about it that is original and unexpected. The narrative structure is inventive not only because it transitions between two separate stories, one being the present and the other being the protagonist’s recollection of the past. Also, for a large portion of the novel, the protagonist’s identity in the past story is not revealed to the reader. In addition, the story’s plot is anything but predictable. There are many twists and turns throughout the novel and a few shocking moments that caught me completely by surprise.
If I were to describe Code Name Verity in one word, it would be surprising. Historical fiction is not usually something I enjoy, but Code Name Verity has not only changed my mind about the genre, but it has also managed to pique my curiosity about history books as well. And, while it does tread familiar territory when it comes to some of the young adult themes such as friendship, coming of age, and self-discovery, it also manages to rise up and discuss very adult themes, such as sexism, religion, war, and death.
Code Name Verity is one of those rare novels that transcends traditional genres. It's not just a war novel, not just a historical fiction novel, and not just a young adult novel. Quite simply, it is a book that I could recommend to just about anyone and a book that anyone and everyone could learn something from and enjoy. You can pick up a copy in both print and eBook formats, but I would highly recommend checking out the audiobook; both of the readers do a phenomenal job.