Genre: Historical Fiction
Author(s): Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH
Release Date: 05/15/2012
Hard cover Price: $16.99
Reading Level: 14-17
Other Choices: War Horse, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Mare's War, Why War Is Never a Good Idea
Synopsis: Plot-twisting, heart-wrenching, unforgettable WWII story.
Common Sense Rates It:
Parents need to know
Parents need to know that 2013 Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity takes place in the darkest days of World War II, with two teen U.K. girls on a covert operation for the Allies imperiled after they crash-land in Nazi-occupied France. Author Elizabeth Wein pulls few punches as she describes the grim realities of war, the Resistance, the nasty details of Nazi torture (including via cigarette), and an otherwise heroic Resistance leader who can't keep his hands off any female within reach. Characters face terrible dangers, and some die horribly. There are bursts of foul language ("f--k," f--king," "s--t," etc.), with British variants and often translated into French and/or German.
- Families can talk about moral dilemmas: Does Maddie do the right thing?
- How do you think Code Name Verity compares with other war stories you've read or seen on film?
- How do you feel about espionage? Is it justified or not, depending on the rightness of your cause?
What's the story?
It's 1943, and two teen girls become best friends when their unlikely skills prove valuable to the Allied war effort. As the book begins, the two of them, pilot Maddie and spy "Queenie," have been forced to crash-land in France. Queenie, having fallen into the hands of the Gestapo and been tortured for weeks, strikes a bargain -- information for a less painful death -- and writes for the Nazis the story of Maddie, herself, and their adventures. As the plot unfolds, nothing and nobody are entirely what they seem.
Is it any good?
Sure to land on many best-of-2012 lists, CODE NAME VERITY is well written, intricately plotted, full of surprises, and as harrowing as it is compelling. Maddie, Queenie, and some of the supporting characters are unforgettable and will stay with readers long after the last chapter has been read.With a wealth of historic and literary detail, as well as an unblinking look at bad things happening to good people and heroic cleverness in the face of hopelessness, Code Name Verity will appeal to many adult readers as well as teens.
The Good Stuff
Messages: Strong messages of friendship, patriotism, courage, incredible resourcefulness, and doing the right thing under impossible conditions are essential to Code Name Verity.
Educational Value: Readers will learn a lot about day-to-day life in Britain and France during World War II, as well as details about everything from aviation to espionage. Author Wein also refers liberally to historic events (the dying words of Admiral Nelson figure prominently in the story) and literary works from Burns to Kipling. Because the plot calls for foreign language translation, readers will pick up some French and German, including swear words.
Role Models: Courageous, resourceful, and pragmatic, Maddie and Queenie go to heroic lengths to help both the war effort and each other. Author Wein excels at not only making the "good" characters complex (with foibles from the comic to the life-threatening) but also at showing the human side of the villains, e.g. Nazi torturer von Linden's love for his daughter.
What to watch out for
Violence Characters are shot, tortured, and killed in various gruesome ways in Nazi-occupied France, and there's a constant atmosphere of terror. Author Wein doesn't dwell unduly on the details, but they're frequent and vivid enough to make a strong impression. It being wartime, many pilots and other characters become combat casualties. Queenie is covertly asked whether her torturers are raping her and says no.
Sex: Paul, the Resistance leader who figures in the plot, is notorious among every woman in the movement for being "such a lech." The practical implications of fending off the unwelcome advances of one's collaborator in the underground comes up for discussion.
Language: "F--k," "f--king," "s--t" (and the British variant "s--te"), and other swear words are used with well-targeted appropriateness in context -- it's wartime. They're often also translated into French or German.
Consumerism: Not an issue
Drinking, drugs & smoking: Characters, generally adults, smoke cigarettes (accurate for the era) and drink alcohol. Cigarettes are sometimes used as instruments of torture and also as gifts, and cognac is used as an element of subterfuge.