Some books are difficult for me to review because I don't want to give too much away as I write. And some are difficult because I want to do a good book justice. Code Name Verity fits both instances. It is a WWII novel that has been described with adjectives like wrenching, beautiful, harrowing, intelligent. All of them apply.
As the book opens 'Verity' begins to tell her story. She's a young British woman captured behind enemy lines by the Gestapo. At the point her tale begins she has been tortured for long enough to break and she has agreed to tell her captors everything she knows. In order to get the words down on paper Verity decides to start with the story of another girl, Maddie, and how she ended up helping in the war effort.
Maddie is a working-class girl with an interest in motorcycles and airplanes. She longs to be able to fly for the war effort and to that end joins the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force). It is there she meets Queenie, a young woman from a far different, more privileged background. As the two women do the work assigned to them, they continue to push to help in larger ways. On the surface the two have little in common, but as their friendship develops it's clear they are more alike then not.
Verity lives up to her name (if we interpret it ironically), because she is the definition of an unreliable narrator. Has she really been broken and is she really telling the Gestapo everything? The stark nature of her first-person experiences (torture, deprivation and fear) contrasting with the more deliberate pace of her third-person narrative about Maddie make for a suspensful and, yes, harrowing build-up to a twisty climax.