There are quite a few Young Adult novels based on the stories of people during the years of the Second World War. Several of these have become huge bestsellers are they are often sought out as books to be studied within the classroom such as The Book Thief and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas. I’d heard really good things about Code Name Verity and as it’s been a little while since I read a Second World War book in this genre I decided it might be nice to see whether it could be a valuable read for my 11-year-old who is going to be studying this time period at school.
This is an interesting book told through the eyes of a Gestapo prisoner in Nazi occupied France. Initially, we know very little about our narrator other than she is a British prisoner, although as she reminds us frequently she is, in fact, Scottish which I found quite amusing as being Scottish myself I know the pains we will go to in order to not be regarded as English. It is clear she has given in under pressures of interrogation and is now writing down what she knows about the allied war effort, the kinds of planes we use, where our air bases are and radio codes that we use for transmitting messages. As she tells us she is a coward, she has bought herself an extra two weeks of life in order to share all the knows with the Germans but ultimately she knows she will die at the hands of her captors.
As the story progresses we find that her way of telling what she knows about the war is both humorous, insightful and written through her experiences during the war. She is often scathing about the Germans who hold her, she is telling her story her way and sometimes this leads to her being punished for the things she says. There is lots of information about flying and the aircraft used during the war but if you can cut through this fundamentally this is the story of a young pilot Maddie who is as capable as any man at flying but during the war she is used for ground duties and eventually for ferrying planes around the UK for repair and to collect aircraft personnel. The story is Maddie’s and that of her best friend Queenie who she meets during her training. They are two people who outwith the confines of the war would never be friends. Maddie is the granddaughter of a Jewish bike seller whilst Queenie is a Scottish aristocrat from a large family with a title and immense wealth.
This story is really touching and we are given more information slowly throughout the first two thirds of the book where our prisoner tells us about how she comes to be in Occupied France and how this links to the stories of Queenie and Maddie. We know it won’t have a happy ending but the story is heartbreaking and engaging and the further into the book you go the more entrancing the story becomes.
The last third of the book is told by a different narrator, Maddie. In this part of the book we fill in the blanks that our Gestapo prisoner was unable to tell us and it is in this section that we learn the whole truth about the novel and as it ended I was left breathless by how cleverly crafted the story had been and how people will find the strengh to rise to challenges they never could have faced if not forced to do so through wartime.
A wonderful novel it is a great read, I wouldn’t recommend it for very young pre-teen readers but I’d say that the content would be fine for ages 13 and above. I also imagine that the often long descriptions of flights and aircraft may put some readers off who find themselves bogged down in this and unable to cut through it to the heart and soul of the story. I can understand perhaps why it’s not used as a school text as often as others of a similar genre.
I really enjoyed this book but I’d still say Prisoner of Night & Fog remains my favourite Young Adult WWII novel.