Friday, September 27, 2013

Cephalopod Coffeehouse Review: Code Name Verity

Welcome to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a place for book-lovers to gather and discuss their favorite novels of the past month. My review for September is Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. Billed as a YA novel, it can be enjoyed by anyone.

"I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do."

This novel is very difficult to review without spoilers, so this will be brief — for me — and impressionistic. The setting is World War II Britain and France, the main characters are an Englishwoman and a Scot, both apparently in their late teens. (I'm not sure their exact ages are ever revealed.) One is a pilot, like the author herself; the other is a spy. Unlike virtually every YA out there, this one has only the barest hint of romance: instead, it's tightly focused on the two girls. I'd say the book is two-thirds friendship story, one-third spy novel, and one-hundred-percent messing with your head. You'll want to read it again as soon as you're finished, just to look for all the clues you missed the first time around. One impression I came away with was "Shaherazad in Guantanamo Bay." Another was "The Book Thief with older and far funnier characters."

My two kids also read the book, all of us finishing at roughly the same time. My son, in middle school, was enjoying it but found the plot confusing. He was a little ahead of me in the book; my daughter was ahead of us both. After each plot twist, he would ask my daughter (who is in high school) what had just happened. I frequently had to close my ears and hum during these conversations. By the end, he didn't love the book: it was too grim for him, and the humor that's peppered throughout (especially from the Scottish narrator, who is hilarious) went over his head much of the time. My daughter, however, loved it. Like me, she read the last third of the book in one breathless sitting. The rest of us were watching Jon Stewart and called her to join us, and she yelled down the stairs, in a frantic voice, "I CAN'T, THIS IS VERY GRIPPING!" When she came downstairs an hour later, after finishing, she was pale. She wandered the kitchen in a daze, repeating, "That was some book."

Every time I finish a book about World War II, I swear off books about World War II. And then I forget about my ban. There are just so many, each with their own particular angle. After The Book Thief, I thought, OK, definitely no more WWII books set in Germany. And this one isn't, so I was lured in. As it turns out, you do need a box of tissues on hand. That said, I didn't find the book nearly as much of a downer as The Book Thief, which left me actively depressed for days. This one has humor and hope. Reading The Book Thief is like being stuffed in a box and dropped down a stairwell. Code Name Verity is more like a rollercoaster, and has the proper feeling of catharsis at the end. It's not just misery.

A note on edition: We have both the hardback and audiobook copies, and I was glad for both. The narrators of the audiobook are excellent; the Scottish narrator in particular brings incredible life to that character, making her funny lines funnier and the tragic bits extra moving. But the paper copy has clues in it you will miss if you only listen to the audiobook. If you can — and check your library, you may be surprised — try to get your hands on both editions.



Check out these other Cephalopod Coffeehouse reviews!

1.The Armchair Squid2.Remembering Grace
3.Vanessa Morgan4.Trisha @ WORD STUFF
5.M.J. Fifield6.Denise Covey @ L'Aussie Writing
7.My Creatively Random Life8.Subliminal Coffee
9.The Random Book Review10.Divine Secrets of the Writing Sisterhood
11.Scouring Monk12.Clarissa Draper
13.Huntress14.mainewords
15.Excuse Me While I Note That Down16.Mark Noce Stories
17.StrangePegs -- Temporary Anne18.Blue Sky Gazing
19.What's Up! MOCK?20.Nicki Elson
21.V's Reads22.Stephen Tremp
23.Ed & Reub24.StrangePegs -- The Spirit Well
25.Hungry Enough To Eat Six!26.Words Incorporated

24 comments:

  1. I haven't tried audiobooks but this makes me want to give it a whirl just to hear the Scottish accent.

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    1. Morven Christie (the Scottish narrator) is very good: she does multiple Scottish accents, including the Aberdeen Doric. I spent a year in Aberdeen so *that* brought back memories. If you're a Doctor Who fan, Christie sounds a lot like Amy Pond. So much so I looked to see if Karen Gillan was the narrator. Christie brings the same manic energy to the Scottish character than Karen brings to Amy.

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  2. I really like the sound of this! Good to 'meet' you - now following :-)

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  3. Sounds incredibly fascinating! I like a lot of books about WWII. One of my favorites (strangely enough) is The English Patient. I say "strangely" because I don't care for the part of the war that took place in North Africa. I think it's Ondaatje's way with words that just lured me in. Thanks for sharing this!

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    1. I liked the movie of the English Patient but so few people seem to love the novel: good to know you liked it!

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    2. Just and FYI, M.J. Fifield on the hop also reviewed this book.

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  4. I think your daughter's reaction is the strongest endorsement. "That was some book." - love that.

    WWII is the story well that never runs dry. Even as the war itself fades from living memory, it is still the defining event of our modern global history.

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    1. I agree. I remember reading a review of a Civil War book that said the country spent a hundred years trying to figure out what that war meant. And now we're that way with WWII. As a kid who grew up in the Atomic City, my life (even though I am way too young to have experienced it directly) has been, in its way, shaped by that war.

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    2. I never thought of it that way but I suppose the city I grew up near (DC) was also shaped largely by WWII, though really by my time it was shaped more by the Cold War and Watergate.

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  5. 'I frequently had to close my ears and hum during these conversations.'

    Okay, can I just say I love picturing this? Your vow to never read WWII books after you've just read one reminds me of a conversation with your daughter about something very similar this summer. I don't think she was super enthused at another WWII book but I guess this one was a cut above for both of you.

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    1. How funny! I think they overdo it in school, at the expense of other periods in history. (Like the Civil War, or the Cold War, or the Great Depression.) So I'm not surprised she was burned out. She loved the Book Thief, though! She's the one who made me read it. I think she was less into the Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which I've heard is even *more* depressing, if that's possible.

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  6. It's been a very long time since I've read a book that left me stunned when I finished it. Thanks so much for the recommendation; I'll look for this book asap.

    Happy weekend!

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  7. Your stairwell & rollercoaster comparison was brilliant. I've had The Book Thief on my to-read list but perhaps I'll do a switchout with this one.

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  8. Wow, this looks like a wonderful book, thanks for recommending it.

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    1. It was very well done. I wish I could plot like that.

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  9. I swore off WWII books, too, after I took a Holocaust class one semester and didn't think I'd ever get over it. But you saying it has hope and that it ends with not just misery...I may want to look at it! Maybe I should have my daughter read it first...she's my guinea pig. Thanks for sharing your review!
    -Michelle

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    1. I like having a guinea-pig reader! My daughter used to be a bad guinea pig, she was too easily upset. Only the most uplifting books satisfied her. She's now able to enjoy a wider range, so she's a good tester. Like a Royal Taster, for books.

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  10. Very cool. But damn this book club!! I keep finding more and more books to add to my teetering list of TBR's. I am currently reading The Killer Angels (thanks to you) and loving it. I shall no doubt add this one to the list as well, because I love your daughter's reaction. That's my kind of book. :))

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    1. Oh! I am so pleased you are reading a recommendation of mine! That makes me absurdly happy. :) I am so glad you are liking it (I'd feel bad if you didn't).

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  11. Sounds great! Will add to my TBR.

    And I can relate to L.G. - I keep adding more and more books to my TBR. Oh well, can't complain really. :D

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    1. Life is too short for all the books we want to read!

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  12. Looks interesting. New follower here. So glad to find a new writer friend. I look forward to visiting again.

    Sylvia
    http://www.writinginwonderland.blogspot.com/

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