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.