Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
I first read this book several years ago, and have been thinking about it ever since, so it was really time for a reread. I had to take a few breaths and prepare myself because this book is one of the most emotional I've experienced. And it really does feel like an experience, like something you need to plunge into, and you don't surface again until you're on the other side gasping and sobbing and shaking your fist at the sky cursing and also so thankful that you live in a world where a novel like this exists. It's that good. Elizabeth Wein is that good.
Code Name Verity is told as a written confession, taken down by British agent "Verity" after being captured and interrogated by the Gestapo in German-occupied France in 1943. Like Scheherazade, she unfurls a tale in order to buy time before her eventual execution. Her story begins with her best friend Maddie, and how it came to be that Maddie flew her into France before crashing.
The most important part of this book is that you will love the characters. As in, you will fall deeply in love with best friends Maddie and Verity. Both are delightful, and they are both very real to me. They are alive and breathe paper air, and because you love them, this book will draw you in soul first. I think Verity goes right up to the top of my five fictional characters I'd like to be friends with.
The use of the unreliable narrator is exceptional here. Verity's confession ends with "I told the truth," and yet she spent the entire time demonstrating that she was a superb liar, designed for the "Great Game," so the reader wonders how the Gestapo could possibly believe a word she writes. But Verity is so compelling, so charming, you want so badly to believe her. And then parts of her confession start to look an awful lot like plans, and you get so excited that maybe, just maybe, there's a chance that everything could turn out okay. The storycraft here is exceptional, and keeps you guessing to the very end.
Another thing, and you wouldn't expect this, but the book is in some ways quite funny. Verity is funny, even while being tortured, and you wonder how that is even possible. But she is so aware of her situation, of how on top of everything she needs to be, and she is still able to come up with zingers and set up her captors in little traps that have them running around in circles, barely able to keep up with their injured, bound captive.
At the heart of it, the book is about friendship, the deep kind of kindred souls which doesn't come along every lifetime. Two beautiful spirits find each other and would die to save the other - or kill - or ... and I'm crying again. I could end the review right here, by telling you that I will never forget this book. Enough said?
Spoiler alert - jump down if you've already finished the book. If you haven't read the book, please go out and read it first?
However, I cannot write about Maddie and Julie Lindsay MacKenzie Wallace Beaufort-Stuart (yes, I'll write her full name down here) without speaking about how it ends, and how well it had been set up to that point. On the second read through I was able to see how much the two friends discuss their fear of letting those the love down - including being able to kill them when necessary. And when Maddie is there to witness as Julie is about to be taken apart piece by piece, and Julie realizes her friend is there and is happy like a sunrise when she realizes she may be spared the horrors set out for her in her last weeks,(KISS ME, HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!), and Maddie does what she has been preparing to do the entire book and kills her friend ... oh my goodness, it broke me. I was reading this in a cafe in Geneva and had tears streaming down my face, on the second read! It is heart breaking, and it was the right thing to do. Maddie escapes and survives and must continue on throughout life knowing she brought about the end of that beautiful bright spirit. And I'm so happy Wein knew enough to solage our souls by absolving Maddie of her guilt in the form of the benediction from Lady Beaufort-Stuart. And the hope, of course, is that Maddie ends up with her charming friends' charming brother, and they live their lives without the sister they will always love but at least they will have each other and that is the world I will choose to live in. I seriously cannot convey strongly enough how well crafted this book is.