Sunday, June 22, 2014

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

A few years ago when my first novel for young adults was published, I met with book pages editor Alisha Sims at the Lethbridge Herald to publicize my book launch. While I was at the Lethbridge Herald offices, Alisha asked if I would be interested in reviewing a book for the newspaper, and she showed me the review copies that had been sent from different publishers. I ended up choosing a copy of Code Name Verity (which had a much different cover than it does now, and I think that the re-release cover is much more appealing than the original that I own), and I ripped through the book in one or two sittings. I am a sucker for WWII books (Postcards from No-Man's Land and Daniel's Story started me on that path) and Code Name Verity is set during its height, concerned mostly with events in 1943. 

Queenie, a Scottish-born special operations operative, is taken by the Gestapo when she accidentally looks for traffic the wrong way when crossing a street in France. She is bound, tortured, and questioned, and her lack of identification papers do not make her story any more plausible. Queenie writes her story down, and believes that as long as she continues to write, she will be kept alive. She starts off writing on the clean, creamy hotel stationary, but soon her story spreads across recipe index cards and a prescription pad for a Jewish doctor. These fragments are all she has, and the power of storytelling is evident (her Gestapo captor calls her Scheherazade after the character in One Thousand and One Nights, telling stories to keep from being executed). She is also under the strict watch of Anna Engel, who translates Queenie's confession for Captain von Linden. 

Queenie's account largely details her friendship with Maddie, a young woman who is a pilot and also Queenie's best friend. So much of the focus is initially on Maddie, that it takes a few chapters to understand that the character "Queenie" in the account is the captive writer herself. The book is carefully, intricately plotted, which is why it is so difficult to talk about in a review - to begin unravelling one thread of the plot means giving away the entirety of another. 

So why am I writing about this book now? The incredible YA Sync program has been releasing a free download of a young adult audio book every week (paired with a free download of an adult audio book) and this past week the available YA title was Code Name Verity. I remembered loving the book when I read it, but I couldn't remember many specific details about it - that's a problem I have with some of the books I love the most, that I speed through them too fast to remember character names and plot, setting and lines. I'm just left with that inarticulate feeling that you get from a truly good book. 

I was so excited for the opportunity to revisit Code Name Verity, this time as an audio book. The audio format made me love the book even more, and made me appreciate much about it that I hadn't in my first read. The references to Peter Pan and the Darlings seemed even more carefully woven throughout, or else I was more audibly attuned to them when listening to the story. And hearing that final "Kiss me, Hardy" line delivered audibly was a million times more affecting (and devastating) than I ever heard it delivered in my head. 

I am so looking forward to next week's YA Sync release, Matthew Quick's Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. I think that the audio of that book will be so affecting and creative, and I'm looking forward to sharing another audio book review once I've listened to it, too. 

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