Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Book cover for Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinTitle // Author: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (web | twitter)
Genre: Historical Fiction YA
Amazon | Goodreads
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release date: May 15, 2012
Challenge: 2012 TBR Challenge
Source: Own It

Summary: Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

A Michael L. Printz Award Honor book that was called “a fiendishly-plotted mind game of a novel” in The New York Times, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other.

Crap, friends. CRAP. This is one of those reviews that I have dreaded writing for a long while. I finished CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein nearly two months ago, and I’ve just sat down to write my review now. It’s hard for me, sometimes, to gather the stones to tell you all that I didn’t really like a book that is almost universally adored and that is, sadly, the situation I find myself in now. CODE NAME VERITY is so highly touted and so glowingly reviewed not only by the big trade magazines but by other bloggers and friends whose opinions matter to me that I wish I could say that perhaps my feelings towards Elizabeth Wein‘s book are the product of my mood when I read it or some other excuse. Alas. My feelings of disappointment in CODE NAME VERITY are pretty real. I don’t think I need to tell you how much that bums me out, but I will anyway: THIS IS A HUGE BUMMER. If it wasn’t for the ending–say, the last 100 pages or so–I wouldn’t even be able to tell you that I only LIKED CODE NAME VERITY, which I did. Like, but not love. Not really even close. Let’s talk it out.

So, as you might already know, CODE NAME VERITY is the story of two young British girls during WWII who become involved with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, one as a spy and the other as a pilot. One of the girls, Verity, does more of the spy thing and Maddie more of the flying thing. They develop a close friendship over the course of some time, so that when Verity and Maddie’s plane crashes over France and Verity is taken prisoner, Maddie is distraught and eager to find her friend once she realizes what has happened to her. Meanwhile, Verity is in a Gestapo-run prison trying to barter for her life with secrets about British planes and airfields and any other juicy tidbits she might know. As the story comes to its conclusion, a THING of TREMENDOUS, EPIC THINGYNESS happens and Elizabeth Wein‘s story fairly barrels to its conclusion. (Thankfully.)

I know that this all probably sounds great to you. And I suppose in some ways it is. We get great glimpses into the historical role of women in the war effort, and a story of friendship. But CODE NAME VERITY is split into two parts–the first is made up of Verity’s “reports” that she is providing to the Gestapo in exchange for her life, and they are without a doubt some of the very dullest passages I’ve read in a really long time. There’s lots of technical airplane talk that I understood not at all and, quite frankly, nothing very exciting that happens. I truly lost count of the number of times I almost put the book down. We see, through Verity’s reports, the growing friendship between the two girls, and we get some sense of Verity’s captors and her prison (both awful). It was all largely boring to me.

The one exception to that is Verity’s voice. It had this great cavalier quality to it, and a sense of humor and irony that I was glad she could muster considering her surroundings. I admired her pluck greatly and often wished she wasn’t telling stories of mind-numbing dullness because I got a sense that she would’ve had a real knack for yarns. She also had this really intriguing way of giving a bunch of information in great detail and then saying things like, “Oh well, you know, I hope you don’t really think that I could’ve remembered all of this stuff, do you?” I did really enjoy her unreliability that way. If that was missing, I’m almost 99% positive that I would have put CODE NAME VERITY down.

Which would have been a little bit of a shame, because part 2, the end of the story from Maddie’s point of view, was much more my speed in more ways than the literal one. It begins just a little bit before the THING THAT HAPPENS, and it was generally more interesting to me. The plot at that point is unfurling apace and we are learning things–really incredible, mind-blowing things–about Verity. If the entirety of CODE NAME VERITY had been more like the second part, two things would have happened, and herein lies the central issue of this book for me: One, I would have liked it more. But two, the book wouldn’t have been nearly as gripping at the end, and it wouldn’t have been such a feat of story-telling by Elizabeth Wein. It’s a catch-22 of the worst kind. I just had no patience or fondness, really, for the setup. ALAS FOREVER.

I’m sure that if you’ve heard anything about CODE NAME VERITY already, it’s these three things: It’s AMAZING, I sobbed until I drowned myself in my own tears, and “KISS ME, HARDY!” The truth about my reading of this book is that, even though I now know what all the “KISS ME, HARDY!” is about, I have to tell you that I did not cry. At all. I didn’t even well up. This is a pretty big deal for me because I cry easily and often about anything and nothing, and the THING? It’s a pretty enormous, emotional THING, and I didn’t really have any emotions about it more than, “Wow. That’s a pretty big THING!…*crickets*” EEP!

If I can share just one more thing with you all before I wrap up and go hide myself from other readers’ death glares, it would be this: I get completely that we are meant to understand that the girls are forever bffs, and that they become very close, important friends to one another. So perhaps this is because I was only mildly interested in what was going on for the first two-thirds of CODE NAME VERITY and so it escaped my notice, but I felt like I missed the development of their friendship somehow, and so when things happen later in the story, I was kind of at a loss. Writing that paragraph just made me nauseous.

Friends, I can’t even tell you how high my expectations were for CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, which was likely part of my problem going in. Seriously, the number of five-star reviews for this book from among my Goodreads friends is STAGGERING! I see people tweeting all over the place about “KISS ME, HARDY!” and then devolving into internet-tears! People say that CODE NAME VERITY is their favorite book ever, the most special book they’ve ever read, one of the best, most touching, most beautiful. I couldn’t count myself in that number. I kept waiting for it to get better for me. Not liking this book makes me feel like a tool, and it was certainly a book that I’m glad I read, but I just don’t think it was meant to be between us. I will most definitely be reading the companion book, ROSE UNDER FIRE, though, because I recognize an excellent storyteller when I see one, and Elizabeth Wein is surely one.

Check out these other reviews of CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

April @ Good Books and Good Wine: “It’s layered and completely and totally genius. It is worth the effort you have to make in the beginning.”

Heidi @ Bunbury in the Stacks: “I found Code Name Verity to be incredibly beautiful and powerful, and yet I feel like it affected me differently than I expected.”

Alexa @ Alexa Loves Books: “This novel tells such a beautiful, moving tale of friendship that will be staying with me for a long while.”

Hannah @ So Obsessed With: “It’s almost like an intricate tapestry – there are all these threads that don’t quite make sense up close, but reveal something gorgeous and inspiring once you take few steps back.”

Comments

  1. FINALLY! Someone who agrees with me! It’s like you took all of my feelings about Code Name Verity and put them into this excellent review. I just…didn’t get the awesomeness. I would have DNFed it, but so many people loved it that I figured I just hadn’t gotten to the awesome part yet. I’m so glad I’m not the only one!
    Kyle @ A Reader’s Pensieve recently posted…Audiobook Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay AsherMy Profile

    • It’s such a relief to know that I wasn’t alone in my underwhelmed-ness. I felt the same as you: I wanted to DNF it but kept waiting for the AMAZING part that everyone was talking about to kick in. I kept reminding myself for the whole first part that everyone says the second part is THE BEST, and then when I got to the second part, it was better but it felt like too little, too late for me. I wanted to love it!!!

  2. I am one of those bloggers who loved the heck out of this book, but one thing you said really stuck out to me:
    “I felt like I missed the development of their friendship somehow, and so when things happen later in the story, I was kind of at a loss.”

    I thought that the development of their friendship was a subtle, piece-by-piece construction of experiences and inferred ‘off-camera’ adventures, so I can see how you might have missed some of the significance of that. And if you missed the enormity of that friendship, nothing after will be as big or important or emotional. What I’m trying to say is: good job explaining why it didn’t work for you. Even as a person who was utterly wrecked by the book, I can understand your experience. I just hope that you’ll give it another chance in a few years… 🙂

    • One of the most upsetting things about this book to me is that I could see why so many people loved this book and died over it, like you did. I agree with you that we were meant to infer the deepening of their friendship, but somehow my boredom with the beginning parts dulled my brain to it. Does that make sense?
      Thanks so much for your comment, Cecelia!

  3. HMMMMM. You have given me food for THOUGHT, Amy. I haven’t read this one, but I tend to like historical books, so it’s on my TBR. I’ve tried to lay low of the hype monster for this one so that I go into it with reasonable expectations. I’ve been burned about three times this year when my expectations for books were SKY HIGH and owwwwwww, the BURN.

    I’m really sad you didn’t like this one though. There’s nothing worse than wanting and hoping you love one, then it just falls flat. Ugh. And feeling nothing when something HUGE happens is awful but if the author doesn’t pull you into the story, it’s their fault, not yours, yo!

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue
    Molli recently posted…Anna RAL – 3rd Discussion Question AnswersMy Profile

    • I really do hope you read it Molli. I normally seem to enjoy books that are slow and steady, like Code Name Verity was, and the end really did pick up for me. I know you’re trying to avoid the hype-monster, but I’m solidly in the minority on this one! I bet you’d enjoy it.

  4. If my friends hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t have finished it either. That said, I did love, love, love the friendship between Maddie and Queenie. Without that thread pulling me along, I probably would have abandoned it. If you didn’t pick up on the development of their friendship, then I can see why the end was a big fat nothing for you.

    Maddie’s story was my favorite, too. Everything picks up significantly with her portion. I did enjoy flipping back and forth trying to put the pieces of the two narratives together, which also helped.

    But yeah. If my friends hadn’t liked it, I definitely would have chucked it. So I totally understand your reaction.
    Akilah recently posted…Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetMy Profile

    • Putting the threads together at the end was one of my favorite parts, truly. The second part really saved the book for me. The parts where we saw the friendship between the two girls were good–I’m glad that they had each other–but I guess I was taking their friendship more at face value in terms of what we saw. I don’t think I was interested enough in what was going on to infer their friendship that grew off-camera, as it were.
      Thanks for your comment, Akilah!

  5. I do enjoy reading reviews of books that I love that didn’t work for others – that’s what makes reading both a communal and individual activity in my mind. Honestly, what I think made me ultimately enjoy Code Name Verity as much as I did was Verity’s voice (and the fact she is an unreliable narrator!). I totally get all the frustrations people have had with this book. It’s definitely not an easy read, nor am I surprised that it doesn’t work for everyone. I hope that you have a little more luck reading Rose Under Fire (and maybe different expectations will help your reading experience of that as well?)!
    Amanda @ Late Nights with Good Books recently posted…Rewind (Top Ten Books I Had to Buy, But Haven’t Read Yet)My Profile

    • Verity’s voice was probably my favorite part, and I loved her unreliability, too! I know that I would be reading one of her reports where she’s giving all these details and I would say to myself, “Wow, how can she remember all this stuff?” and then she’d be like, “You don’t really expect all of these details to be correct, do you?” I loved that so much.
      I’m looking forward to Rose Under Fire as well!
      Thanks for your comment, Amanda!!

  6. Although I absolutely am head over heels in love with CNV, I don’t hold it against you that you weren’t so into it. It happens, ya know? I think that you did a great job of stating why it didn’t work for you — boring bits and all (personally, I have a bizarrely high tolerance for boring). Also I just want to +1 Cecelia’s comment because yah, it does seem like a lot happens ‘off screen’ to develop their friendship and that’s sort of what I got out of it. The subtlety and such.

    Anyways, great review. It definitely takes courage, I think, to not LOVE a book that everyone else is about to marry.
    April Books & Wine recently posted…Beautiful Bastard | Christina Lauren | Book ReviewMy Profile

    • Thanks lady! I was so nervous to post my review, which is why it took me forever, lol. I knew that the beginning would be tough, but I guess it was a little too slow even for me. I did enjoy the way the whole thing played out in the end, though.

  7. Aww, books just don’t simply work for everyone. Otherwise her earlier Arthurian/Ethiopian alternate history series would also be a big hit (I know that Megan Whalen Turner fans have cried sacrilege, but I like them as much as Eugenides & Co.).
    You are you and what works for you works for you. Every review I read I know will never be objective – personally I don’t aim for objective, I want to squee and share and see what others think. Sometimes I get cutting, but most often I just DNF the books that lost my interest.
    I think you wrote a pretty thoughtful review for a book you had to work hard on.
    Here via Heidi
    Estara Swanberg recently posted…Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 9My Profile

  8. I’ve seen some other negative reviews of CNV so you’re definitely not alone in your feelings but your review is one of the better written negative ones that I’ve seen. I had completely the opposite reaction to you but appreciate you sharing your honest opinion-can be hard when it seems like almost everyone else loves a book.
    Bookworm1858 recently posted…TakenMy Profile

  9. Amy, friend, I’m really glad you did post this review because it is excellent, and you really shouldn’t feel bad for not enjoying this book. I myself was wracked with feelings of guilt, because while I did enjoy it more than you, I didn’t LOVE it like other people. I didn’t cry at all, and that made me feel broken, but I just didn’t feel an emotional connection to these characters (actually, the closest I came to welling up was the letter at the end). The book didn’t really grab me until the perspective change either, and in the end I feel like I had a very similar reaction to you, I just did happen to enjoy it more in the end.
    Heidi recently posted…With Bated Breath: Classics RetoldMy Profile

  10. This wasn’t quite a five star read for me, but I liked it a lot. The beginning is certainly a struggle, but once I got a hang of the writing style, I started getting invested in the story. I did think the facts of Verity and Maddie’s life are pretty fascinating though, and the military stuff was actually interesting to me so that probably helped with making the first part a little more appealing to me.

    It’s Maddie’s part that is just SO well done, and I really liked it! It totally changed the book for me, and turned it into a four star read, instead of just a three star one. I recognize that it has a lot to do with how the story is written, but seriously, that twist is GOOD.

    Also, I didn’t cry either. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
    Alexa Y. recently posted…Riptide – Lindsey Scheibe (Review)My Profile

  11. Digging the new blog design!

    But re: the book itself, it really sucks that it didn’t live up to the hype for you! I really want to read it soon to see what my feelings about it will be. And finally find out what Kiss Me Hardy is all about!
    Reut recently posted…Review: Nantucket Blue by Leila HowlandMy Profile

  12. Ahh, this review!!! Exactly, exactly how I felt about this book. SO GLAD to find someone who understands me. Like you said, the first part was rather boring, and since I didn’t know who Verity was, it was hard for me to root for her against the Gestapo or take an interest in her. And after that I could barely pay attention to the next parts, which were a little bit better.
    Renae @ Respiring Thoughts recently posted…Top 10 Tuesday: Light and Fun ReadsMy Profile

  13. Fantastic website. Plenty of helpful information here. I’m sending it to some buddies ans also sharing in delicious.
    And obviously, thank you on your effort!
    paleo diet recipes for beginners recently posted…paleo diet recipes for beginnersMy Profile

Trackbacks

  1. […] didn’t love this book as much as other people did, but there’s no way I can deny the power of Maddie and Verity’s friendship. It runs […]

  2. […] don’t kill me, guys, for using CODE NAME VERITY as my Beans. This was one of the most boring books I’ve ever read. The only reason I […]

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