“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”
Code Name Verity is a story about many things – WWII, the role of women during wartime, courage in the face of adversity but above all, it is a story about friendship. And it is utterly, completely, wholly heartbreaking.
The relationship between Julia and Maddie is the central focus of this novel and it gives context and purpose to the story our protagonist is telling. These two amazing, brilliant characters and the love they have for each other is profoundly sad (seriously, you will cry an ocean and then want to drown yourself in it) but also a testament to the bonds of friendship and love. I don’t even know how to articulate how perfectly written this entire novel is, especially when it comes to Julia and Maggie – one is an upper-class Lady with an actual title in front of her name; she went abroad to an exclusive boarding school and she lives in a castle. Another is a working-class girl living in a small cottage. Even the way the speak, one with slang with upper to middle-class students and the other with a definitive working-class accent (I think this is arguably more obvious to an English reader, though). It is one of the ironies of wartime that these two girls meet and develop a bond that stands strong despite everything that happens to both of them. Their relationship can be interpreted as either platonic or romantic, it doesn’t really matter because the story can be read either way (although lbr, they’re ‘friends’ in the way Dean and Castiel are ‘friends’).
“Must stop. This ink is amazing, it really doesn’t smear, even when you cry on it.”
The novel is also heavily about the role of women in wartime. There are male characters in this book but each of them play supporting roles – this is deliberately done because so much of wartime literature is male-dominated. It is very rare to find anything that focuses almost entirely on women during this period of human history, despite women actually playing a pretty important part in the war effort. Every female character in Code Name Verity is given a voice and carries significance – from Maddie, one of the very few female pilots and Jewish to boot, to Julia’s mother, who keeps her window open in the hopes that her children, like the ones in the story Peter Pan, will fly back home someday, to the female prisoner who is tortured repeatedly for information and yet never says a word. It’s also kind of amazing that each of these characters has a name; an identity, a statement that all of these characters’ stories matter, that they won’t be forgotten – a tribute to the many people who died or went missing during the war, as well as a powerful comment about oppression – that these women retain their identities even as the Nazis fought to wipe them of it.
“But I have told the truth. Isn’t that ironic?”
The novel uses a frame story – a story within a story – and the frame is used to set the stage for the main narrative i.e. Julia, held in a Nazi interrogation facility, is made to write a confession. It is through the confession that we first meet Maddie and are given the story of their friendship. The introductory frame gives the reason for Julia to tell her story but it is also a backdrop for the unreliability of the narrator. Yeah, this is a book that will mess with your perception and make you read and re-read because it is so amazingly plotted out that the twists will happen and each time you will be caught unaware. The unreliable narrator is incredibly important in understanding the historical context of Code Name Verity but is also necessary in understanding Julia’s character. Trust me when I say to you that this book is the most perfect example of how to write an unreliable narrator.
“KISS ME, HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!”
Undoubtedly this novel deserves five stars – I would give it all the stars tbh. It is just stunningly written, funny and heartbreaking and tense. It will stay with you for a long time after you’ve stopped reading, this story about war and courage and the love between two people giving them the strength to keep going, even in the most hopeless and horrifying situations.