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June 25, 2013
Read this YA Book If…
Code Name Verity: Courage and Friendship
by Erin Cowles

I've been following the buzz about Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, and two common themes emerged. First, readers either adored it or felt bogged down with details about WWII-era planes. Second, this book is very difficult to talk about without giving away plot twists.

Because I'm always up for a challenge, I decided I had to review this unreviewable book.

Code Name Verity is a lot of things. It is a celebration of the contributions women aviators and spies made to WWII. It is a tale of courage and hope when the stakes are high and the odds are impossible. It is a smart and layered thriller full of twists. But first and foremost, it is a story of friendship.

Maddie and, well, let's call her “the narrator,” would not have met under normal circumstances. Maddie is the grandchild of immigrant shopkeepers. The narrator comes from wealth and blood. But war shifts the social structure, and both women have stepped up to use their unique skills to fill traditionally male roles. Maddie uses her technical know-how to fly planes and work for air traffic control, and the narrator uses her education and language fluency to assist the secretive “special operations.”

The two become fast friends after collaborating on a sensitive situation and sharing a harrowing night in an air raid shelter. They stay connected through their different and dangerous assignments, teaching each other important skills and bringing courage and joy to each other during difficult times.

By the time the novel starts, something has gone terribly wrong. The narrator has been captured and interrogated by the Gestapo in France, and she has two weeks to write her confession of her war time efforts. Throughout this twisting and complex account, we see how Maddie and the narrator's friendship has given them the courage needed to fight their respective battles.

While I usually don't go for thrillers, I enjoyed this book. I think my favorite part was its focus on female friendship. Contemporary fiction thrives on romantic tension. Many new authors are even told they need to add a romantic interest for their book to be published because, let's face it, how many titles on the New York Times YA Bestseller list are romance-free? Hint: not many.

Code Name Verity pulled it off. This novel is full of adventure and connection — a boy would have been a distraction. This plot creates tension without a romantic lead, and the characters are rich and interesting as individuals.

The framework is also a lot of fun. This is the kind of book where you'll find yourself frequently flipping back to reread the hints that had been given earlier. The narrator keeps you guessing throughout, and new information colors the way you see earlier events.

As is often the case with World War II books, this is not for the faint of heart. There is torture, murder, sexual abuse, and brutality that is certainly historically accurate, but still a little tough for younger audiences to stomach.

A companion volume to Code Name Verity, entitled Rose Under Fire, will be released in the US on September 10, 2013 (for you lucky UK readers, it was released a few days ago). Its ARC reviews are glowing, and based on this novel, I have high expectations.

Read this book if...

Target audience: Ages 14+.

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