Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, is my first finished WWII book. Because this was already on my reading list, it didn’t take much encouragement to read it. Really fast. Much faster than the histories.
This story follows two girls, one of whom is a special operator (aka spy) and the other a pilot, both for England. The author, a pilot herself, wanted to explore women’s roles, especially that of pilots, during WWII. Women flew quite a lot for the English air force, but mostly as ferry pilots, bringing planes or other pilots from here to there. Women also worked undercover for the resistance.
The story begins with one of the women, Julie (whose name we don’t know forever) undergoing Nazi interrogation in France. Under the guise of giving information, she tells both her and Maddie’s stories—the latter of which is the female pilot and her best friend.
The fascinating part of this book is that Julie tells her tale through Maddie’s point of view, starting with Maddie’s love of mechanical work through to that of flying planes in the WAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). Julie—identifying herself as Queenie—appears in the story but only as a peripheral character. Everything we learn about her, we see through the eyes of her best friend.
The beauty of the this story, the bravery and impudence of Julie undergoing interrogation and the courage and integrity of her flying friend made it a pleasure to read. Both have the classic English pluck—though Julie would protest, saying she’s Scottish, not English—that enabled England to survive during the war, bombarded by her enemies, and made women into war heroes as well.
What seems like a pretty straightforward tale of two women takes on a twist in the latter half and again at the end which makes a good book great. I obviously can’t tell you what those twists are, but it makes the structure of the plot completely fascinating, especially to another writer. It also makes you reconsider the name of the book. That’s all I can say without giving anything away.
This book is amazing, filled with beauty and courage and sacrifice and love. Filled with friendship. It celebrates the little people upon whose backs the Allies won the war: the ferry pilot, the spy, the French resistance fighter, the farmer who hid refugees. Add to this the prose, which is unique and beautiful, describing something as simple as a soft-boiled egg or a moon-filled night with such clarity that the reader can immediately picture it, can taste the runny yolk or feel the silver moon rays, and the story becomes real:
“The hot, bright yolk, was like a summer sun breaking through cloud, the first daffodil in the snow, a gold sovereign wrapped in a white silk handkerchief. She dipper her spoon in it and licked it.”