Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A young British woman is caught spying during World War Two in Occupied France. Weeks of torture have left her exhausted and near despair, and she agrees to write down wireless codes and aircraft landing sites in return for a couple more weeks of life and a painless execution. Elizabeth Wein popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 452 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Electric Monkey
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781405258210

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Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013

It is probably impossible to read this book without crying. It is one of the most heart-breaking and yet uplifting books around, and reading it feels like a privilege. Begin it early in the day, because you will not want to put it down until you have reached the very last page, and when you do you will care for many of the main characters like friends. You will weep for those who die (or most of them, at any rate: even the gentlest of readers will be glad that the world is rid of one or two). You will be proud to be human, if people like these are in our world, and you will burn for shame that others can be so cruel, so cold and so vicious. And the worst of it is, our study of history tells us that even if these precise events did not happen, then there are many other events in war, both in the past and doubtless now as well, which resemble them. The whole book is a testament to human courage and human frailty.

Two girls fly to France on a mission. One is a pilot, and the other, her closest friend, a spy. When their plane is hit and goes down one of them is rescued by the Resistance, and the other is captured by the Gestapo. But which is which?

Dystopian books for teens have flooded the bookshops in recent years, filled with details of horrific injuries, terrible choices and courageous young people battling the odds. This book contains all that, and has more: it is written with a sure-handed verisimilitude which reads like narrative history, not fiction. The imprisoned girl chooses to frame her information to the Gestapo officer interrogating her in the form of a story, telling him how she first met the girl who was to become her dearest friend, and continuing right up the very moment of writing. Faced with the prospect of being fed kerosene and her breath set alight if she does not cooperate, she names and describes places, people and planes, utterly resigned to the fact that she is a coward who can no longer stand the pain and humiliation and who will do anything—anything at all, even betray her country—to avoid it. But during her account she chooses to refer to both girls in the third person, and that device is a clue to the overall structure of the book. Nothing is at it seems. No one is who they first appeared to be, and the secrecy of the Special Operations teams and the Resistance are echoed in the very fibres of the book. That is why you will have to read through to the end without stopping: only then can you understand what really happened, who was killed, who rescued, and why. Only in the final pages will you see how all the disparate strands of this extraordinary book are woven together into one immense and satisfying tapestry.

Buy it. You'll want to read it more than once, so it's best to have your own copy. Read it slowly, allow yourself to be puzzled and misled by the first section, and keep faith with these two girls as they do with each other. You'll find it's worth it.

Another excellent book about young people in an age of horror and cruelty is Prisoner of the Inquisition by Theresa Breslin. And if you haven't read Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo yet, then seek it out. But be warned: buy another box of tissues first. You'll need them.

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Buy Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein at

Booklists.jpg Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is in the The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013.

Bookinterviews.jpg Elizabeth Wein was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.


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Nigethan Sathiyalingam said:

You told me to keep faith after the perplexing first section, and I did, and I was blown away. Great review!