Again, Happy Christmas Eve to all of you! Liz is a New Jersey librarian who blogs over at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy at the School Library Journal site. In this guest post, Liz talks the many reasons why she loves Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.
Spoiler warning for Code Name Verity, please skip this post if you haven’t read the book!
A love letter to Code Name Verity.
Image from Elizabeth Wein’s website.
I can remember reading, for the first time, the first line of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: “I am a coward.”
And I can remember thinking, “I do not want to read about a coward.” And then, thinking, “well, OK, the truth is, well, who wouldn’t be a coward?”
And then I kept reading. And began to understand more about the narrator, and began to cheer her on, despite her being a coward who sold out for a warm sweater, because of the story she was telling and how real she became to me, and, of course, who wouldn’t be a coward, in her situation?
And I noted some of the cleverness going on, with the narration, such as how long it took to reveal her name to us, and I thought I understood the type of clever Elizabeth Wein was being. Making us be sympathetic to someone who gave up codes to the Nazis for a warm sweater and the chance to write out a story. Making us feel for that girl.
And then that page came, when I realized, the narrator had a name other than her code name (Verity), or the name she used in her writing (Queenie) and she had a purpose other than what she was telling her captors.
And that, perhaps, yes, Julie – that’s her name, of course you know that, her name was Julie – was telling us the truth all along.
Oh, not about some things. If you’ve read Code Name Verity, you know that yes, Julie is a spy and she has been captured and tortured and she writes out her confession. All true. What isn’t true is what she confesses; what isn’t true is the story she tells the Nazis. She figures out just how much truth and lies to mash up, and she schemes to include a message to those outside the walls of her prison, and that message isn’t “I am here” or “rescue me.” It’s all about her mission, always her mission.
Because so much of Julie’s writing cannot be trusted, Code Name Verity demands a reread. It’s the perfect example of how spoilers don’t matter to a well-crafted story. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I would not deliberately deny to any reader the discovery of the truth behind Julie’s story. But once the “reveal” is revealed, to go back knowing, to go back truly being in Julie’s head – this time, this reading, is different. Because, even more so than the first time, you are with Julie as she writes – rather than being with Julie by reading what she’s written.
And this – that Code Name Verity remains just as strong, if not stronger, once “the secret” is known, is half the reason I love this book so much.
The other half is Maddie. Part of what Julie writes about is the friendship between Queenie and Maddie, and even in the lies and exaggerations (what better way to believe someone is a coward, than to name her something that sounds spoiled, indulged, and soft? “Queenie” indeed) there are truths. Why, some wonder, did Julie include any of these things? Isn’t that too much to believe, that she would include these meanderings and side shows that become important to the reader, or to Maddie, or to understanding Julie better, but are nothing to the Nazis demanding a confession?
Because. Because even as Julie was being smart and clever, she was trying to keep herself from being what she confessed to: a coward. Oh, it’s OK to be the type of coward who admits fear and then gets on with what has to be done, and I believe that is the type of coward who Julie is. It’s not OK to be the one who lets cowardice control what they do. And Julie, broken and cold and captured and not quite sure if her gamble would work, needed to remind herself who she was.
And who was she? Maddie’s friend. And picturing herself, through Maddie’s eyes, gave her courage. (It also, practically speaking, gave her even more words in which to hide.)
And this is why the friendship between Maddie and Julie thrills me and touches me and makes me cry. Not for what they did or didn’t do, not for the laughs they shared, not because they were friends (even though yes, all of that matters.)
But because at its best, what friendship can give us, is seeing ourselves through another’s eyes and knowing we are worthy. We are good, we are kind, we are brave, we are smart – we are not cowards – because of that person. And how that person sees us.
One of the most satisfying parts of Code Name Verity is discovering that yes, Maddie is real, and yes, Maddie and Julie’s friendship is real, and yes, Julie was telling us the truth, and herself the truth, that she has such a friend.
And that is why I love Code Name Verity: because it’s about lies and stories and friendship, and how we see ourselves and how we need others to see the truth about ourselves.
And, of course –
“Kiss me, Hardy.”
Kiss me quick! Thank you, Liz.