(Originally posted on my old book review blog, HilliterateBlog!)
Hello all and happy 2018! I'm very excited about my first post of the new year as I'll be talking about one of my new favorite books, Code Name Verity, and its sequel, Rose Under Fire, both by the extremely talented Elizabeth Wein. I don't often like to declare "favorites" since it's so difficult to choose; I usually say, "my favorite that I've read recently" or something equally malleable. But CNV stole my heart to the point that I feel like I will come back and read it again and again, and that lands it in the rarely used category of all-time favorites. Now, full disclosure — Wein recently published a prequel to Code Name Verity entitled The Pearl Thief, but I haven't yet gotten my hands on a copy and I couldn't wait to review the other two. I'm sure I'll love The Pearl Thief just as much, anyway, and it wouldn't change a thing about my emphatic recommendation of this series!
Code Name Verity was recommended to me by multiple friends before I finally made my way around to reading it, and I can't believe it took me so long. Strong female protagonists, spies, and WWII Europe — this is a more or less foolproof recipe for a story that I will ADORE. CNV opens as a journal of sorts written by the girl in the title, whom we know at first only by her code name of "Verity." She has been captured by the Nazis in occupied France after she blew her cover by accidentally looking the wrong way before crossing the street. After weeks of torture, she has apparently given in to their demands and has been tasked with writing out a "confession" — all of the secrets, codes, locations of airfields, and other useful information that she can provide. What she gives to her captors, and thereby to us as the readers, is so much more than anyone bargained for.
Without giving away anything major, I can say that Verity weaves an elaborate tale of her relationship with Maddie, the pilot who brought her to France and whom she now believes to be dead. Verity's prose is funny, poignant, and at times completely heartbreaking, but overall does an amazing job of characterizing both herself and Maddie as well as the nature of strong female friendship. Verity is perhaps the most compelling narrator I've ever met in a book; if she wasn't fictional, I would want her as a best friend. Maddie is strong and sweet in a different but equally lovable way, and the way their stories play out together is nothing short of incredible. I know I'm being vague, but there are a few twists and turns that steer the whole action of the book and I would be doing readers a disservice if I gave them away. Just trust me and read this book, please. :) You won't be sorry.
Continuing in vagueness... Rose Under Fire takes place after CNV but carries over a couple of important characters while introducing a new protagonist. Rose Justice is a gifted American pilot who has joined Britain's Air Transport Auxiliary. While making a drop-off in France, she gets turned around and is intercepted by a couple of Nazi Luftwaffe planes. As a result of this, she finds herself in the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp. Like its predecessor, this book is composed of journal entries, this time by Rose before she is captured and then months later, after she is free again, as she recounts her time in Ravensbrück. Rose Under Fire is thoroughly researched from many Ravensbrück survivors' firsthand accounts, which makes the book both very powerful and at times difficult to get through. Rose's narration helps to humanize this piece of history that we hear about often but that can seem so distant and surreal. She is seeing and describing this horrific, impossible place through the eyes of an ordinary young woman.
Making Rose's tale even more impactful are the friends that she makes at Ravensbrück. Each has her own unique background and "reason" for ending up where they are (though there is obviously no justifiable reason for any of it). Several of the women are known as the "rabbits" after they are the test subjects in Nazi doctors' notorious and horrifying medical experiments. In the midst of all of their suffering, the women are still able to trust in each other and use every last resource they can scrounge to make their lives at the camp more bearable and ultimately, to find an escape.
Both books in this series showcase strong young women facing the most impossible situations and relying on each other to make it through. The power of friendship and strength of the human spirit are shown at their best. Additionally, the fictional characters and their circumstances are based on very real people and events. I enjoyed reading Wein's historical notes at the end as much as I enjoyed the narratives themselves, as it never ceases to amaze me how many incredible people and stories came out of a single war. If it wasn't obvious by now, I could not recommend more highly that everyone read Wein's novels based in two particular aspects of WWII history. Aaaand lastly... Verity, Maddie, Rose, and basically all of the other female characters are badasses who do a lot of good in spite of all of the bad that the world is throwing at them. Girl power, ya know?
I'm always looking for new historical fiction and awesome female protagonists, so please share with me in the comments if you have any favorites! I hope everyone's year if off to a good start and that you've been able to spend some of it reading!