"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.
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