Worth It Wednesdays: “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein

Worth It Wednesdays is a weekly post where I feature my favorite YA titles. Find out more about it here!

Code Name VerityTitle: Code Name Verity

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Goodreads Description: I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine – and I will do anything, anything to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France – an Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team.

Why it’s worth it: I should note that I had no reason to like this book. No reason. I don’t like war books, I don’t like books that switch perspectives and are written in this strange, shifting POV. (Read more about that in my review.) But did I like this book?

I BLOODY WELL LOVED IT.

I am not one who cries easily over books. I’m not one to say, “Wow, that book really stuck with me.” But with this one, I did both. I laughed, I cried, I screamed and at the end of it I sat there in a stunned silence and just FELT THINGS. So many things. Wein has crafted such a technically skilled and gorgeous novel that any other book that I’ve read like it has paled in comparison.

Back when I did Top Ten Tuesdays consistently, I listed this book for just about everything: Top Books about Friendship, Top Books I Wish were Taught in Schools – you name it. I also made my book club read this book, to intensely favorable reviews. It’s WORTH READING as few others are. Just have Kleenex handy.

Read it if you’re looking for: strong female friendships, historical fiction: WWII, female spies, female pilots, tears, feelings and emotions, beautiful writing, strong storytelling, action and adventure

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Perusing Poetics: You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’til it’s Gone

“A degree from UC Berkeley will never change the fact that I cannot understand my grandfather when he asks for more coffee” – Esther G. Belin

This isn’t actually a quote from the direct reading this week, which was selections from Genocide of the Mind, but its the one that connects most directly to what I want to talk about, so here we go!

I’ve discussed before that I’m a grandchild of immigrant grandparents. They came from Germany after World War II. They had two daughters at the time, but my dad was born after they landed in New Jersey. He grew up speaking German, but he didn’t live in the country himself. I’m told his New Jersey-German accent was something to behold, though. (He sadly doesn’t have that anymore. Now he just can’t say “Mississippi” right.)

Actual things I did in “school”

My mom’s family was also of German descent, but a way long time ago. She was still super into the culture, though, and I’m pretty sure she’s actually the reason me and my brothers have such super German names and also were put into a Waldorf school to, among other things, learn German.

I grew up being babysat by my Omi and Opa, and as a result my German teachers would tell me I didn’t have an American accent. I had started saying the guttural German sounds so young that they came naturally and I didn’t have to reshape my mouth for them. I spoke German pretty okay for a while, but then I had to switch schools and got put into Spanish–and stopped learning German. I lost a lot of the ability I had learned to string together my own sentences. I had the sounds but not the speech.

Now, right here this story could take an uplifting turn where I say, “And in order to honor my Omi (read: make her stop yelling at me about forgetting my heritage), I picked up German again and am now fluent,” but it doesn’t. But the important thing is that it COULD. The fact that I don’t speak German is self-inflicted, not societally inflicted.

That is what struck me so strongly about the Genocide of the Mind readings. It’s never comfortable to be reminded of your own privilege, but it’s a damn good thing. My Omi is still with me, but when she isn’t, German won’t be lost to be. It will be there, accessible to me, in as many different forms as I want it. I can watch German films, listen to German music, read German books. I CAN.

No, I’m not saying anything that isn’t common sense. I know that. But that’s also why I consistently am staggered by comments like Carol Snow Moon Bachofner being told that her Native American recuperation attempts is her “little Native American project” (146). It well and truly is a “cultural genocide” that not many people see besides those that are being gutted from the inside out (146). It will not be seen until someone realizes some profit is being lost unless things are radically changed.

They need to be changed.

Perusing Poetics: The Stories We Never Tell

I have considered that that title sounds rather ominous. It does. Oh well. Soldier on and I don’t think you’ll regret it! (Unless you have issues with either the destruction visited on Native Americans by white settlers or non-Nazi Germans. Those topics are about to independently come up here.)

This week, I’m talking about an essay by William Cronon called “A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative.” Now, though I’ve found all of the readings so far interesting, I dare say this is one of the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most. Maybe because I understood it. Maybe because it got me thinking. Or both. Both is good.

This long essay is about narrative, why humans use narrative to structure their lives, and how each narrative is really just a choice on what to include and what to exclude (since telling a complete story is impossible)–just to brush over a few topics. I want to focus on that last one–namely the exclusion–for this particular, personal blog post.

One of the issues with narrative is that, as Cronon says, “it inevitably sanctions some voices while silencing others” (1350). For his example, he uses the lives of Native Americans in most of the tales about life in the Great Plains around the time of the Dust Bowl. Such stories of pioneers and free land could only be written, of course, if they obscured “the conquest that traded one people’s freedom for another’s” (1352). One of my classmates brought up that, although we are taught about this in schools, what we are taught does not directly link the actions of the white settlers to the destruction visited on the Native Americans. In this, schools deliberately forgo narrative in order to leave these events as unconnected as possible.

The problem with these kinds of narratives is that they can create their own power, since they draw on stories we’re already familiar with. The erasure of the Native American-white settler connection has been ingrained in our society for so long, it’s almost unnoticeable unless you choose to be consciously aware of it. Certain stories have a certain power that “not even the historian as author entirely controls them” (1352).

My professor asked us all at the end of class what similar narratives we told–or did not tell–in our lives that we cut or mangled in order to tell something better. You could think of embarrassing memories you want to forget, the story of the fight with your sibling where you leave out how mean you were in return–those are simple examples. For me, though, it’s the story of my grandfather’s life.

I don’t remember running into this so much before college, but the last three years … woo boy. When we talk about heritage, I state proudly that my grandparents are German–right off the boat German. They both worked really hard to achieve a dream that my family still keeps alive today in the form of a 25 acre resort and retreat. I love them both very much, though my grandfather is now dead. So I say it, and don’t think a lot about it. Almost every time I’ve said this, someone in the vicinity of me has said something to the effect of “Well, I’m Jewish.”

Usually it’s said like a joke, but I don’t find it funny. I tend to omit that my grandparents

No. Stop. Right now.

came over right after World War II ended, but people know enough of history to guess. The funny thing is that I have nothing to hide. Yes, my grandfather navigated a bomb sweeper in the English Channel during the war. He was trying to escape to America at the war’s start when Nazi officers put a gun to his head and convinced him otherwise. My grandmother was a nurse, constantly being bombed by Allied troops. Both of them were so disgusted with the war that they left and never looked back, and when my grandfather was awarded the Iron Cross (kind of like the Purple Heart), he refused to accept it and instead left it to the German government. He spent his final years writing a handwritten novel about how Hitler screwed up Germany.

This is the first time I’ve ever put that in writing. It’s one of the few times I’ve ever said it. It is a narrative that I never tell, because I can’t start it without someone applying a better known narrative on top because they think they know what I’m going to say. German grandparents who are not Jews mean Nazis. Make another incinerator joke, I’ve heard them all. I honestly can’t tell which of us this is supposed to be more offensive to. Also, the irony is, these interactions are always happening between two people who weren’t there–these are not own our personal life stories.

I’ve gotten better at tackling these encounters, and they’ve become less frequent, but mostly because I don’t talk about it anymore. I introduce myself and leave people to infer whatever they want about my heritage. I tell other people I’m related to the captain of the Mayflower (it’s true, on my mom’s side) because that’s easier. The World War II connection is apparently calm enough to make jokes of, but not enough to completely erase the “othering” of the Germans of the time, who were all made into an enemy we needed to fight.

Now before anyone gets freaked out, I’m not saying that World War II was wrong or something or that I don’t like Jews or … whatever. I’m only saying that I have a story I can’t tell, because people assume the ending before I’ve finished the beginning. They hear my name and apply to me a narrative that is out of the control of either of us.

My favorite quote of the entire piece is Cronon’s assertion that “we tell stories with each other and against each other in order to speak to each other” (1373-1374). Well, here’s my foray into the field. It’s not a scholarly work or a vast study of behavior. Just me, personally, telling you a story–one I refuse not to tell this time.

Review: “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Click for Goodreads)

5 stars

Oct. 11th, 1943–A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.
When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?
Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.

This review is of an ARC received from NetGalley.

There are few books that leave me speechless.

This would be one of them.

I’ll admit, I had my reservations in the beginning. The narrator RAMBLES like whoa. I mean, I was reading on a screen and I saw pages taken up by just two paragraphs and I thought “Swell, this is just going and going and I’m going to be bored to tears.”

I wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

Usually, if the narrator rambles, I get bored and lose interest. Not here. Sometimes I feel like narrators in YA lack a distinct voice, but–again–not here. Verity HAS VOICE. Verity HAS PRESENCE. Despite the fact that she tells her story from Maddie’s point of view, talking about herself in the first person, I felt like I was seeing into Verity’s soul. There was no doubt in my mind about the voice that was just flying off the pages, talking to my heart. She not only managed to win me over despite rambling, but also despite talking about herself in the third person, which is huge. (The third person thing makes sense later, but I can’t say anything about that!)

Plus, I was expecting a pretty dark, dramatic book. It is both of those things, but imagine my surprise when I found myself laughing out loud multiple times while I was reading. While Verity is being held by the Gestapo. I was laughing. That’s how spectacular Verity is. That’s how strong she is. That’s what this book is like.

I’d also like to give a brief shout out on a very touchy subject. Not only is Verity a rounded person, but the German Officer who interrogates her is also a rounded character. He isn’t this mindless drone, which I found very refreshing and made the book even more real. It would have been so, so easy to stereotype this guy, but Wein didn’t. She MADE IT REAL.

You have no idea how hard it is not to comment on the second half of the book. I literally don’t know how to write about that. I’ll admit, personally here I found the voice weaker and several things too rushed, but at the same time I can’t imagine certain events having differently, not if they still wanted to be real. The ending is very bittersweet, so I suppose my mixed feelings are supposed to be there.

And trust me, all of my feelings are there.

I could get technical. I could. I could talk for ages about the rambling, the technicalities, and the story tangents that don’t make sense til the second half of the book. With any other book, I would. But with this one, I just can’t. Code Name Verity was just one of those books.

A good book is fun to read. A good book takes you to a new place for a time, but then you put it down and you go on with your life. Code Name Verity was not a good book.

Code Name Verity was a great book.

It was the kind of book with images, words and ideas that get under your skin. The kind of story that melts into your heart. It was an experience that is with you long after you’ve closed the book. THAT is the kind of story that comes with Code Name Verity.