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19 February 2012 CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, Hyperion, May 2012, 352p., ISBN: 978-1-4231-5219-4


"Maddie, lucky beast, did not have to endure any of this. Maddie just picked up her ferry chit as usual from the Oakway Operations hut, grinned at the 'S' and the destination 'RAF Buscot' because it meant she'd get to share a cup of tea with her best friend at some point in the next twenty-four hours, and walked out to the Puss Moth with her gas mask and her flight bag. It was routine. Incredible to think what an ordinary day it was for her, to begin with.

"It was still light when we landed at RAF Special Duties. Moonrise was early, half past six or so, and because of Double Summer Time we had to wait for it to get dark. Jamie--call sign John--was flying out that night, and Michael. The call signs are all from Peter Pan, of course. This particular night's venture was called Operation Dogstar, which seems appropriate. Second to the right, and then straight on till morning.

"It's awful, telling it like this, isn't it? As though we didn't know the ending. As though it could have another ending. It's like watching Romeo drink poison. Everytime you see it you get fooled into thinking his girlfriend might wake up and stop him. Every single time you see it you want to shout, You stupid ass, just wait a minute and she'll open her eyes! Oi, you, you twat, open your eyes, wake up! Don't die this time! But they always do."


CODE NAME VERITY is a mind-blowing World War II Scheherazade story featuring Julie a/k/a Queenie, a female spy captured by the Nazis in occupied France (thanks to the tiniest of slip-ups) and her cold-as-ice SS interrogator. And through the days and nights of her writing her tales for her Nazi captor, we come to know the story of Queenie's relationship with female aviatrix Maddie Brodatt, her best friend and the one who was piloting the craft from which Queenie parachuted before Maddie went down with the enemy-fire-damaged plane.


Like Scheherazade, Queenie is well-bred. She is from a privileged Scottish family of royal ancestry, and has attended school in Switzerland. She can speak German well enough to pass as a German turncoat (which we learn she had done on occasion), and she has the ability to frequently deceive her interrogator SS Hauptsturmfuher von Lowe with the stories of the British war effort that she pens every day in exchange for his putting off her getting shipped to a concentration camp where she will likely become a lab rat until she dies. We, are surprised to learn what our unreliable narrator has misstated or left out of her tales. The story's twists are absolute genius.


"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend."


In contrast to Queenie's privileged upbringing, Maddie was raised by her grandparents amidst her grandfather's bike shop in the vicinity of Manchester, England. Her mechanical aptitude leads to her learning to fly shortly before Hitler invaded Poland. She is in the right place at the right time with far more experience in flying than the boys who are going out to risk their lives in the war. She and Queenie have parallel career trajectories -- one as a communicator, translator, and spy, and the other as a pilot -- that will lead the pair to that fateful night over Ormaie, France, and Queenie's subsequent time imprisoned in the Bordeaux Castle Hotel, which has become the Ormaie Gestapo Headquarters.


For me, CODE NAME VERITY is the best of both worlds: an exciting, well-researched masterpiece of historical fiction with a contemporary sensibility to the writing that gives it a strong sense of immediacy. I know that I can start over and read it all again but, after savoring it for days, bite by bite, it brought me to tears to realize that I'll never be able to read it again for the first time. That is how powerful a story this is.


Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/ http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php


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