Author Elizabeth Wein, a pilot herself, has clearly done her research into how women were involved in the war effort. She uses small details, like the advent of ballpoint pens, to make history seem real, but it's her idiosyncratic characters that bring the pages to life. Even the Nazis are well developed with the line between good and evil somewhat blurred. I can't think of another war book that has young women as protagonists, and not romantic interests of the soldiers. Code Name Verity allows the girls to lead the action and to form a close wartime bond, while still maintaining historical accuracy. The somewhat epistolary writing style matches the time period too.
The spy narrator was one of the best characters I've ever encountered. Her plucky spirit reminded me a bit of Juliet from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society, but this story, despite being written for teens, was darker. Although the descriptions weren't graphic, the details of the spy's confinement and the cries of her fellow prisoners haunted my dreams. Still, I spent more time laughing than crying as the protagonist had a most British sense of humor: stiff upper lip with ironic, self-deprecating asides.
Most of the narrative avoided the grim realities of war and instead focused on how two girls from opposite ends of society, one upper class Scottish and the other working class English, became best friends. There's a hint of romantic attachment, but it's not spelled out. Their close friendship followed the tradition of Anne of Green Gables and her bussom body, Diana. It's a welcome change from more recent clique books to have a teen novel centered on a positive female friendship.
Don't let the young adult label put you off; Code Name Verity is perhaps better suited for adult readers due to the dark subject matter. My husband loved it too and found the battle scenes realistically chaotic. It would be too scary for our sensitive 15-year-old daughter, but I recommended it to her best friend, who reads mostly adult fiction. It's exciting to find innovative, literary work with strong female characters for teen readers.
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