Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

code name verityWhen a female spy is captured by the Germans in France during World War II, she is tortured until she agrees to tell everything she knows about the Allied plans. Her “confession” takes on a journal-like tone as she talks to and about her jailers. Through her writing, the spy peels back a corner of her own prison thus allowing the reader to understand her own courage, pain, and despair.

A secondary plot develops as she relates how she came to France and her concerns that her pilot, her friend Maddie, may have been killed when their plane crashed. While divulging England’s military secrets, the story of two very different young women growing up in English emerges.

It should be noted that often, one can discuss the literary aspects of a novel without giving away the twists of the plot. This is one novel where that is very difficult to talk about the book without spoiler alerts. Wein was very creative in her development of her plot. This is one component that would be well worth discussing as would the use of voice in a narrative.

Many writers fall into the trap of wanting to tell their reader too much. The omniscient narrator does allow the writer to convey requisite background material needed to advance the plot to the reader quickly. This technique, however, can often distance the reader from the character (which may be an excellent technique depending on the story). A much more difficult task is to have the protagonist tell the story with a believable voice. The reason this can be difficult is that much of what is important to the plot must be inferred or naturally infused into the conversation or action of the tale. Wein decided to tell the story through the papers her protagonist was forced to write. This act suggests an implicit censoring and bias must be present while still being true to that character’s personality and voice. Code Name Verity is an excellent example of this type of narrative.

Further, one of the most important aspects of a realistic historical novel is that it is historically accurate. Although I am not a historian, it does appear that Wein did her homework. At the back of the book she provides an author’s note (Author’s Debriefing) in which she notes where she explains how history becomes fiction. She also discusses her research and provides a bibliography of additional reading for the interested reader.

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