Librarians sort and categorize books. It’s what we do. We split fiction from non-fiction; reference books which must stay on the premises from those books we let you check out and take home. We put books in order alphabetically, or by the Dewey Decimal system. We also separate adult books from children’s books from teen books – also known as “young adult” in the library world. We would show people the sections and books in which we assumed they would be interested, and life went along a very predictable path.
And then along came Harry Potter.
Suddenly, we librarians saw younger children checking out books that had more than 130 pages! In the Young Adult section! Adults were reading them, too! And looking for more!
Then Stephenie Meyers wrote Twilight and made vampires and werewolves all the rage. Adults were browsing more and more in the Young Adult section, and it really hasn’t let up. To be honest, I’m thrilled. In the years BHP – Before Harry Potter – I was always touting YA fiction, telling anyone who would listen there were some very good novels being written for teens, and that it was a shame they weren’t getting wider readership. I know, it sounds like I’m saying “I told you so” and perhaps I am.
So I recently followed my own advice and went browsing in the YA section myself. I selected a novel by Elizabeth Wein called Code Name Verity. Set in England during the 1940s, it’s the story of Maddie, a young girl who learns mechanics from her grandfather and eventually becomes a pilot. When the war begins, she is recruited to fly into Nazi-occupied France with a spy who is set to execute a top-secret mission; a spy who just happens to be Maddie’s best friend. This spy, Verity, is captured by the Gestapo and taken to their local headquarters as a prisoner. There she is given a choice: write out the details of her mission, naming spies and airfields and giving wireless codes – or suffer a gruesome execution.
Verity begins writing her story, and we learn through her confession of her life, her friendship with Maddie, and the other Resistance fighters she has come to know. Like Scheherazade, her stories are keeping her alive, although not necessarily safe. But what will happen when she finishes her tale?
The story weaves back and forth between Verity’s present and her past, but once you fall into the rhythm, it’s almost impossible to put down. The second half of the book shifts to Maddie’s viewpoint, re-telling the story from a different angle and revealing new truths. The minute I finished it, I gave it to my daughter, saying, “You have to read this now. I need to talk to someone about this book!”
Anyone who loves stories set during WWII will love this story of courage in the face of evil, and hope, despite overwhelming odds.