Happy Christmas Eve, everyone! For today’s EWein Special Ops guest post, we have Shae from Shae Has Left the Room (previously, the blogger behind Bookshelvers Anonymous) here to talk about Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. Shae likes reading middle grade and young adult novels from fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, historical fiction and magical realism genres.
Please give a warm welcome to Shae!
Tell the Truth. Tell the World.
My love for Elizabeth Wein and her work is probably the worst-kept secret in the history of faux secrets. Snagging Code Name Verity from my store in exchange for the book I was currently reading was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my reading life. Then Rose Under Fire took all the hope, heartache, wonder, fear, despair, and awe I felt in its predecessor and deepened them.
I struggled for a long time over what to talk about for Chachic’s appreciation week. The power of friendship? The refreshing use of female friendship? The equally refreshing lack of an overpowering romance in either book? The way Ms. Wein uses common household items (chocolate bars, open windows, green lights, red toenail polish) to inflict EXTREME EMOTIONAL PAIN?! Or should I throw form and format to the wind and use my time to flail and freak over the way Ms. Wein can construct a sentence like no one I’ve ever read?
All so tempting, but out of Ms. Wein’s many contributions to the world at large, I think the one I appreciate the most is how she bypasses the easier historical narratives to tell those that need to be shouted. Both books, despite their differing narrative structures and separate narrators, drill down to one joint idea: telling the truth and the power of words.
The tagline for the Code Name Verity is “I have told the truth.” The tagline for Rose Under Fire is “I will tell the world.” As the first-person declension indicates, these are statements made by the narrators in the books themselves, core values visited again and again at crucial points in the plots. These simple sentences are also more than beliefs held by Verity and Rose. They are, in a way, Ms. Wein’s mission statements to her readers.
Even the silliest of books teach as they entertain. A joke book teaches the societal construct of humor and the way language can be manipulated to draw out a laugh. A dry, serious tome beloved by academics might pontificate drily about various beliefs in the areas of philosophy, ethics, and human behavior. A picture book will impart social norms and desired behavior even as its bunny-eared protagonist chases her lost balloon. Code Name Verity tells the solemn truth through proven historical fact. It is not a book filled with sensationalized moments of pathos or fiery, Hollywood-appropriate escapes. To be sure, it is an exciting and bittersweet story, but its strength lies in its veracity.
Code Name Verity is about a female ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) pilot and a female SOE (Special Operations Executive) agent in the service of Britain during World War 2. Both are pulled behind enemy lines (one into a Gestapo prison) and must fight their way home. This story is unique for allowing multiple female narratives in a major war where the females in question are not 1) nurses, or 2) civilians feeling the effects of the war back home. Verity and Maddie deal with the war and its dangers personally but also in a way that is historically accurate. Verity, our spy, is not James Bond. Maddie, our pilot, is not the Red Baron. Their roles are restricted to those allowed to women in their time, but these same roles are often hard for modern readers to swallow, having been taught in schools and by the media that only men did anything important in the past.
Rose Under Fire takes Code Name Verity‘s mission and expands upon it. Now we meet Rose Justice, a naive young pilot from America who strays behind enemy lines and is sent to Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp, where she meets other war prisoners. Through Rose we meet Russian fighter pilots, French Resistance fighters, Polish prisoners-turned-medical-experiments, American poets, and German traitors. All women, all influencing the war with their actions, with their bravery, and, most powerfully, with their words.
To the modern eye, Verity’s and Rose’s tales may seem fantastical. Women in war? Women on the front lines? Women being imprisoned, tortured, interrogated, experimented upon, and killed? Hollywood. That’s not real life. Men are the ones who shape the war, who fight in battles and make the big decisions. (To which I say bull patties!) This is where Ms. Wein’s dedication to telling the truth shines. The lack of sensationalism for the sake of a good story bolsters the effect of the narrations. It allows the emotional impact to travel farther and hit harder than a half-baked book packed with minimal facts and cheap thrills.
As moving as Verity and Maddie’s and Rose’s stories are in their own right, as much as you are tempted to bend beneath the weight of the tales, nothing compares to the bone-deep certainty that Ms. Wein has kept her promise. She has told the truth. Our narrators may not be real people, but the others they meet and the situations they encounter are. Though shoved behind the narratives of generals and politicians, the real-life stories of the Ravensbruck Rabbits, SOE agents, and ATA pilots who not only turned the tide of the war but also aided justice during the Nuremberg Trials after the fall of Germany have found a new stage in her works. She has kept her promise. She has told the truth. And she has told the world.
Links of Note:
My review of Code Name Verity
My review of Rose Under Fire
Real life spies and pilots – a link collection from Elizabeth Wein
Ravensbruck – a link collection from Elizabeth Wein
A lifetime’s worth of stories about women in history
Thank you, Shae! I love the power of words theme in EWein’s writing as well.