In brief: The story of two young women in World War II, each doing very dangerous jobs.
The good: Heartbreaking and interesting.
The not-so-good: The shift in narrator was a little odd.
Why I chose it: Heard that this book is very, very good.
Duration: 10 hours 7 minutes (book is 441 pages)
Narrators: Morven Christie, Lucy Gaskell
Publisher: Egmont Press
Setting: England and France
I’d long heard about Code Name Verity before downloading it as an audiobook. So many people in my internet circles enthused about it that when I was wondering what to listen to next, the title popped out of my wish list. Although it is categorised as a young adult book, it can (and will) by enjoyed by everyone. I think the audio only adds to the tension and suspense that is rife in the book. Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell are to be congratulated for making a great book into an excellent listening performance. Their voices carry the desperation and urgency of this story of two young women during World War II.
The story opens as a young woman is held captive in France by the Germans, she’s in turmoil with the secrets she has told while being tortured. How can she live with herself? Now she needs to give away even more of the British’s secrets in a confession, listing aeroplanes and airfields. But what comes out is a story of Maddie and ‘Queenie’ who become friends as they work together. Maddie is a pilot. Queenie is reluctant to give details away, but little by little we learn more about her and how she ended up in France. However, it’s Maddie’s story that Queenie wants to tell and eventually the story moves to Maddie and a secret fight against the Nazis.
Code Name Verity is a book that deserves to be well known. It’s simply brilliant. Elizabeth Wein captures the tension and fear that Queenie is feeling as she’s being asked to tell everything she knows and betray her country. It’s powerful and emotive and nicely balanced with some dry humour (for example, when Queenie writes some fake prescriptions for the woman who guards her). Just when you think the poor girl might be due a break, something else comes out of nowhere. There’s a particularly tense point of the narrative where everything the reader thought they knew turns on its head. I felt gutted at the turn of events which led to Maddie being front and centre. It felt like I had lost a friend. Sure Maddie was interesting, but… To Wein’s credit, she made Maddie’s continuing story just as interesting with a feeling of quiet danger running through it. At this point the reader knows what happened to Queenie and it’s a grit your teeth and cross your fingers feeling hoping that Maddie’s work will have a different outcome.
The story is possibly the most intricately crafted YA book I’ve come across as a grown up. It’s got everything in it – bravery, determination, drama and friendship that combines to make a commanding read. It’s not full of guts and glory, it’s a sensitive human portrait of the role of women in World War II. Definitely one to read (or listen to) sooner or later.