Thursday, November 15, 2012

You Can Still Find A Good Nazi Spy Story

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is a marvelous World War II spy story in which details are slowly revealed. Anyone talking about this book (and I'm not the first to note this) must be very careful not to destroy the book's pleasures by revealing any of those details ourselves.

So let me say that this book is about two young English women (Wait! One of them is Scottish, damn it!), who come to know one another during their war work. Maddie is a pilot in one of those women's auxiliary groups, and Queenie...Well, I don't want to say just what she is, because that's one of the things that's revealed. I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that at the beginning of the novel she has been captured by the Nazis.

The plotting of this story is very intricate. Personally, I think it falls apart a bit in the second half of the book. But, you know, I can't really get into it too much because to do so would, once again, give away some of the details that are the big pleasure of this novel. I will say that I found the second half less believable and felt that a climactic event was telegraphed.

Much has been made of the friendship between the two young women in this book. Okay, let me pause and say here that a close family member who is quite fond of me has described me as being "disturbingly" unsentimental. I will not pass on another relative's perception of my hardness other than to say that he is one hundred percent correct. So now that you know that, I will proceed and say that I found the friendship thing in Code Name Verity to be somewhat over the top. It made for a melodramatic climax. To me it's a tribute to the strength of the spy story that the book is still so incredibly readable.

Plot Project: I haven't done any plot project talk recently but some information in the "Author's Debriefing" at the end of the book interested me in terms of plot. Wein says, "This book started off rather simply as a portrait of an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot. Being a woman and a pilot myself, I wanted to explore the possibilities that would have been open to me during the Second World War." "...I started with research, hoping to get plot ideas..." What she's saying is that she started with a situation and had to come up with a story later.  I've written more than one book starting with only a situation, and I think it must have been incredibly difficult for Wein to move from that "portrait" idea to the incredibly complex spy story she finally wrote. That is a huge achievement.

Code Name Verity is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Category and a Goodreads Choice Awards nominee for Young Adult Fiction

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