Saturday, 23 March 2013

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein
London, Egmont, 2012, 441p

It's not often that you find a book about such heroic young women. Most World War fiction focuses upon men at war and women at home, but Code Name Verity drops two incredible young women into Nazi-occupied France, into situations so challenging I can hardly imagine how they managed.

In her epilogue, Elizabeth Wein is overt in stating her intentions for this novel. As a female pilot herself, she wanted to explore the possibilities for what she might have done during the Second World War. As you may imagine, female pilots were not common during the 1940s, but there were exceptions. 

This is the story of two friends in a desperate situation. The novel opens with the diary of Verity, written in Nazi prison in France. She has been tortured, forced to reveal details about Allied aircraft and codes. She is bruised, emotionally damaged, and weak. She tells the story of how she came to be captured, having crash landed in France on a flight with her friend, Maddie. The second part of the novel is written by Maddie, separated from her friend and trying to find out where she is. 

The characters are brilliant, their friendship is inspiring. In a world before technology, their friendship develops over several months, and under the challenge of being unable to talk about the secrets of their jobs. 

At first, I was unsure about the intended audience for this novel, as the characters are grown up women. So many young adult and teenage novels are written about young characters that I was thrown off. But the author clearly avoids being too explicit about life in a Gestapo prison, hardly even hinting at sexual abuse or torture - the story is not to cause distress. The focus of the novel is about female friendship, and the bravery of young women who suppress their fears in order to help with the war effort.

This is another novel on the Carnegie shortlist for teenage readers. It is a fabulous read, inspiring young women and highlighting the possibilities available to them. However, I am concerned about it's chances to win, as the female-focus might not be of interest to boys.

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