Book Review: Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity

Posted July 13, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity

in Hardcover edition on May 15, 2012 and has 354 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

First in the Code Name Verity historical fiction series for young adults about women serving in World War II. The focus in this story is on the bravery of Queenie Beaufort-Stuart and Maddie Brodatt. This is an ARC I received from NetGalley and Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.

In 2015, Code Name Verity was nominated for the Abraham Lincoln Award. In 2013, it won the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult, was in the YALSA Teens’ Top Ten, and was nominated for the Michael L. Printz Award, the Milwaukee County Teen Book Award, and the Carnegie Medal in Literature. In 2012, Code Name Verity won the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book for Fiction; it was nominated for the Scottish Children’s Book Award for Older Readers, Goodreads Choice for Young Adult Fiction, North East Teenage Book Award, and the Agatha Award for Best Children’s/Young Adult Novel.

My Take

I almost didn’t get a fifth of the way into this book. I didn’t like how the main character was acting. The betrayal she was performing, and I couldn’t bear the thought of going there. I don’t like people like that.

And I’m glad I did persist as Code Name Verity was a very tricksy tale.

Wein uses the beginning to set up a friendship between two girls from two different classes within their society. Two girls who would not have met any other way except through serving their country during wartime. It begins with Maddie and her passions for tinkering, for flying and her pursuit of those passions, how they lead her to Queenie.

Weaving back and forth between each girl’s point-of-view, it can be a touch confusing and awkward at the start as it begins with the present and flips back and forth between now and then, between Queenie and Maddie, until at last we catch up at the point where her confession brings both lives together, existing in the current time. I can only imagine how difficult it was for Wein to keep track of when and where she is in the narrative.

Wein begins with the confession, the betrayal of her country. It’s a clever way to postpone more torture, to hold off on being executed or shipped out to a concentration camp which would only be a slower and more miserable way to die.

As the reader, you too must keep going. Keep reading past the betrayal, for Wein slowly reveals more and more of the truth, tiny bits at a time, leading to an ending that will leave you weeping. Even for the bad guy, shockingly enough. It’s a betrayal of an individual’s humanity, and I hated the circumstances and the bullies who forced this type of behavior onto people. You may say that these people had a choice, and certainly von Linden didn’t have a hostage being held against his behavior. However, I suspect he was struggling with Ferber’s demands, his own honor, and his thoughts of family. It was very much an ending full of surprises.

I do wish Wein had provided some indication as to why this mission was so important. I don’t see how it was worth all the loss.

At one point, Wein mentions that World War II is leading to a leveling of the classes, and this truth is particularly poignant in Queenie’s mother’s letter to Maddie.

As a editor, I did enjoy the bit when von Linden slaps Engel down and tells her how the prisoner is using literary techniques to write her confession.

In spite of the deep horror of it, Code Name Verity is subtle, and it beautifully conveys how people cope and the camaraderie they share in a desperate situation. Of course, it also serves to deepen your connection to the characters.

The Story

Caught by a silly mistake. Worse, she’s caught by her own fears and bargains her way to less pain with the spilling of all she knows about codes, planes, names, and locations.

It’s in the spilling that we learn how Maddie and Queenie become friends and how the path of their lives moves and blends, leading to their final destinies in France.

The Characters

Second Officer Maddie Brodatt of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), code name “Kittyhawk”, becomes fascinated by machinery and a chance crash landing sets off her love for flying. When Britain enters the war, she does everything she can to help. Beryl was one of her friends.

Flight Officer Queenie Beaufort-Stuart, a.k.a., Eva Seiler, a.k.a., Lady Julia Lindsay MacKenzie Wallace Beaufort-Stuart, is an aristocratic-appearing young lady who speaks German and is very cool under fire. Jamie Beaufort-Stuart is her favorite brother, a.k.a., the Pobble Who Has No Toes, and one of her greatest fears as he’s a bomber pilot. After his rescue, he’s helping his mother, Esmé, Lady Beaufort-Stuart, babysit eight young evacuees: Ross and Jock, Angus, Mungo, Rabbie, Tam, Hamish, and Wullie.

Katharina Habicht is Queenie’s cover name in France. There is an old lady in Ormaie who helps the Resistance, and she buries the bodies and doesn’t know.

SS-Hauptsturmführer Amadeus von Linden is the Gestapo officer in charge of her torture at Ormaie, France. In civilian life, he was a headmaster; he has a daughter, Isolde, safely tucked away in a school in Switzerland. Fräulein Anna Engel is a sadistic civilian who translates her confessions into German. Schaurführer Etienne Thibaut is French but joined the Gestapo; a fact his family uses. SS-Sturmbannführer Nikolaus J. Ferber is von Linden’s commanding officer.

Dympna Wythenshawe is the pilot Maddie and Beryl rescued; she returns the favor by recommending Maddie to Special Duties flying. All a part of paying it forward. Maidsend Squadron Leader “Creighton” is actually Leland North. Sir John Balliol is the intelligence officer who recruited Queenie and Maddie.

Georgia Penn is an American radio announcer for the Germans, broadcasting propaganda for them.

The Damask spy circuit in France includes:
Paul is the handsy SOE organizer in France. Mitraillette is his second-in-command and Papa and Maman Thibaut‘s elder daughter, Gabrielle-Thérèse. La Cadette, Amélie, is her younger sister. The Thibauts are farmers.

Nacht und Nebel, Night and Fog, is a Nazi policy whereby people are “disappeared”, toyed with, experimented upon.

The Cover and Title

The cover is perfect: two hands clasping each other’s wrists, the ties that bind.

The title is the mission: Code Name Verity.