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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity Code Name VerityCode Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion, May 2012
Reviewed from ARC

At last! I finally get to write about my one true love of the year, the book I will champion against all others as the be all, end all best book of the year.

(Sorry, Railsea, you rock, but you’re still not number one, Pyrite nomination notwithstanding.)

Oh god, now that the moment is here I feel such pressure to make the case. Because this is, for my money, the runaway best written book of the year. And yes, I loved it, but that’s not actually the point at all. The point is that this is a masterwork of writing, full of literary flourishes, tightly plotted, rich in character, well-grounded in reality, haunting in setting, and just hitting it out of the park on so many levels. It deserves the Printz.

(And look, people, the world has been amazing about keeping mum about some of the intricacies of this plot, because there are twists and reveals and they are super. But after nearly a year of keeping mum unless the other party in the conversation had also read it, I’m going to break my discretion, because I can’t discuss CNV with any level of specificity or textual evidence unless I give it all away. So do us all a favor. If you haven’t read CNV yet, please don’t click through. This is a book that is already fettered by the weight of expectation for some readers; do yourself a favor and read it unspoiled. We’ll wait. You’ll be back.)

Having just mentioned the twist, let me start with a few thoughts about that precise thing.

I’ve read Code Name Verity two and a half times so far — I’m in the midst of my third read right now. On the first read, I was completely flabbergasted when the narration shift happened. I turned the page, thinking it seemed like Julie’s story was over, but there was an awful lot of book left, and hey! Maddie! Which, since I believed along with Julie that Maddie was dead, was even more startling. Once I got to end, emotionally wrung out but also full of admiration for the way Maddie’s section changed every. single. thing. I thought I’d known in part one, I turned back to page one and read the entire book again.

On the second read through, hard on the heels of the first, I noted a lot about the torture; it’s so easy, reading Julie’s narration, to just slide right over those casual remarks. A few of them had jumped out, but her voice is so lively that until I saw Julie through Georgia Penn’s eyes and Maddie’s, I could not fully grasp the extent of the harm done to her. There are so many plays on the idea of perception throughout this, and that’s one of them. Julie is deliberately being flip and insouciant; her assessment of the damage done to her is something she refuses to dwell on, and while she mentions it a fair amount, the way in which she does that is so calm and collected (most of the time), it’s easy for the reader to be lulled by Julie’s narrative. But on a second read, fresh from the horror of hearing about the situation through Maddie’s eyes (via Georgia Penn), suddenly the reader’s sense of reality is completely different and so is the way we read Julie’s section. I also noticed how slick Julie is — she says, at one point, “IT’S JOLLY AMAZING, YOU STUPID NAZI BASTARDS,” which initially seems like anger at her own complicity, but once the truth — the verity? — is revealed, it becomes clear that even as she engages in this bold, probably hopeless game, she is telling the Nazis just what she is doing.

On the third read, I’m startled by the literary references. Peter Pan is the primary reference point, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. And while many of us probably tend to think of the slightly glossy Disney version, the Peter Pan Julie would have known is a very chilling story about loss and loneliness (and oh, that she gives Maddie the call sign Wendy in her version of events for Von Loewe Linden (name changed between ARC and final copies), making Julie Peter Pan and thus lost — chilling and perfect foreshadowing). Also, it’s Scottish (or at least by a Scot), which makes it both a literary motif and another way of exploring the question of identity and affiliation, which, like perception, threads its way throughout under the surface plot.

But there are also multiple references to the story of Theseus and Ariadne; Julie never overtly references the fact that Theseus was a planned sacrifice, but I think that’s an implicit connection; the willing sacrifice of oneself for a greater good is very much a part of what she is doing. (Just, Theseus actually escaped his Labyrinth.) And of course there’s the 1,001 Nights/Sheherezade references, and nods to The Little Princess, A Tale of Two Cities, Goethe’s Faustus, and others. Each reference both seems completely natural — all of them come to the reader through Julie’s narration, not Maddie’s (although Maddie references the importance of Peter Pan in the context of the Stuart-Beaufort family), a nod to the class differences in England at that time (yet another subtheme is the breaking down of class divisions), but also each literary reference has additional resonances, especially A Tale of Two Cities, in the context of Julie’s life.

I should not have been startled by the references, because all of them are there on the page for the sharp reader from the first, but a lot of the depth is hidden on the initial read; references to Ariadne and the labyrinth, for example, merely seem part and parcel of Julie’s privilege — and she definitely comes from a life of immense privilege, so references to the classic literature, her ancestral castle, and the Swiss boarding school all flow together — and while one can’t miss the Peter Pan nods, they are more meaningful and far more ripe for analysis when the reader has the full picture (the symbolic meaning of the call sign, for example, didn’t register until the third read.)

What I’m seeing is that the skilled writing here goes way beyond the twist or the plotting that makes the twist work, and once the surprise is out of the way, all the other literary elements can bubble to the top of the reading experience. And it’s easy to dismiss the twist as a well-executed gimmick, so rereading CNV struck me as really important. Does it work even when you know what’s coming? Is it a sleight of hand or a work of substance? All those literary references are one of the pieces that make this more than a one-trick pony.

And let’s talk about that plotting. It’s an amazing feat; Wein tells many of the same stories twice, from two perspectives, one of whom is lying through her teeth. All the dates and details needed to match, all the details of the memories needed to match without being in dialogue with one another. The tightness of Wein’s grasp on her plot, her characters — all very impressive. That’s the piece most one-off readers will probably walk away in awe of, from a technical perspective, and it is awe-inspiring.

But there is also some lovely writing, especially in Julie’s narration; there are moments of memory that are just beautiful (the green flash, the scene she imagines rather than remembers when Maddie visits Castle Craig for the first time). Julie and Maddie’s voices are nothing alike, and Maddie’s narrative has a plainspoken quality that tells just as much about Maddie as Julie’s tale of Maddie told about Julie.

I could find more to praise — there are layers of unspoken stuff that speak volumes (I for one think Maddie and Jamie are clearly falling for each other and might already be involved, and Maddie and Julie both know it, and clearly Damask is Julie’s grandmother, which is just heartbreaking) — but I’d like to talk about the flaws. And the themes.

This is not a perfect book. The single biggest flaw, to my mind, is the damn eternapen — it gets mentioned just that bit too much, and draws attention to itself, which reminds the reader that this is historical fiction, and makes the reader aware of research, and does some serious damage to the suspension of disbelief right at the start of Maddie’s narrative. Similarly, the underlined bits in Julie’s pages (that Engel’s underlines for the Resistance) called attention to itself and make the reader think about those sentences. I see how the idea is to give the reader a clue that there is more going on, but I think the effect is to distract from the story Julie is spinning, and that also breaks that willing suspension of disbelief.

And I know there are those who find Julie’s spinning plates impossible to get beyond — how can she do this when she’s been tortured? But the person revealed throughout the book is someone who has an amazing capacity for make-believe, and also she slips up. A lot. Rereading, I have so many moments where I marked a sentence that sounds genuine, and a sentence after that I believe is Julie trying to cover her error. She’s playing a game and she plays it well, but not perfectly.

And, of course, the “Kiss me, Hardy” moment. Which made me cry buckets, so this was not something that bothered me, personally, but it’s true — it’s pretty ridiculous that Maddie is a crack shot in that horrendous moment. But there is narrative imperative compelling that bullet to find its mark.

No book is perfect, and I can forgive the flaws because this still rises above everything else I’ve read thus far this year (but yes, I have a few more serious contenders to read) — and these are flaws that I read and reread the book to find; the emotional spell (unless you are one of the few who just hate Julie from page one and can’t get past that or the flying details to get to the emotional bits) makes all of the minor issues immaterial on the first go-round.

Finally, thematically, this is so rich. Friendship, female empowerment, World War II and the nature of heroism, survival, and goodness — all universal themes, made tangible and specific through this unlikely, unstoppable friendship.

Simply put, best book this year.

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About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything (except current events, because she’s too busy reading YA literature to follow the news). Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. Beth says:

    I ordered this from the UK in February after reading the Book Smugglers review. What’s odd is that I never do things like that – I always read books from the library first, I never base purchases on just one review, I always wait until more of a consensus emerges. And yet I ordered, and what a book this was. It’s beautifully written, beautifully plotted, and incredibly well-done. Most of all, though, there’s such life in its pages, and it stands in stark contrast to the time period and content. It’s a really beautiful thing, and it will remain so whether or not it wins the Printz.

    It had better win the Printz, though.

  2. Maureen E says:

    I just love this book so much. I literally can’t talk about it in person–I get choked up and wave my hands around. On the emotional level–I seriously haven’t cried so much since I read A Tale of Two Cities when I was 12. I’m teary now.

    I was afraid from the beginning that the end was coming. I’ve actually been a Wein fan for several years now and I knew she wasn’t going to pull her narrative punches. But even so, the first time I read it, I wanted to turn around and read it again to see just how she pulled it off. Except I couldn’t, because I was crying too hard.

    I don’t know. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a heart book for me–one that I’m entirely too emotionally attached to to be detached and intellectual about. But at the same time, it does work for me intellectually. It’s so tightly plotted, so full of details that reward careful reading and re-reading.

    And I’ll never be able to hear the first line of Peter Pan again without tearing up.

  3. Maureen E says:

    I forgot–the other thing that really strikes me is the thread of truth running through the book. “I have told the truth,” Julie says, and as Maddie points out, she does. Even though she changes all the details, even though she weaves in 11 sets of wireless code. And that’s something that matters, to Julie, to Maddie, to Jamie.

    And I so appreciated that Wein doesn’t fall prey to overdrawn evil Nazis. Even the ones who ultimately stay unsympathetic are real people, not caricatures. And Anna Engel–I harbor a great deal of secret (not secret) love for Anna Engel who is, in her own way, just as much a heroine as Julie or Maddie. I hope she has a happy ending.

  4. H. Munca says:

    I loved this one too, and I say that as someone who was completely unconvinced until almost the end of the first section. It was obvious to me from the very beginning that the narrator was lying, because she was telling all these stories from Maddie’s perspective, stuff she couldn’t know (unless maybe she WAS Maddie, which occurred to me). That, plus the underlinings, plus the fact that this was supposedly written on the back of recipe cards and whatnot after being tortured, well. I was having a really hard time of it. It was only at the end where we begin to see the cracks in the facade, where she yells at that French resistance girl to LIE, that I finally started to feel invested in the story.

    So that would be my one complaint. My only complaint. Because once we get to Maddie, strangely enough, it becomes completely transparent what Julie was doing in those long “Madcap Adventures of Maddie” sections. It was a love letter to her friend, and it was the thing that was keeping her sane through all the torture. She was just trying to hang in there as long as she could.

    I loved the turnaround with Anna, how she ended up being different than Julie had painted her. I loved how different Julie and Maddie were. Several friends of mine read this at the same time as me, and we all still get choked up about it. We had a long discussion about which character we would be (my friends all thought I’d be Julie; I’d want to be Julie, but I think I’m more a Maddie in real life). It cuts so close to the heart of female friendship in a way I just haven’t seen very often in fiction, and for that alone it is wonderful.

    Jeez, it IS nice to be able to talk about this openly! :)

  5. Mark Flowers says:

    Nope. Sorry Karyn. Not the best book of the year. A very very good book, but one with huge flaws. Let’s dig in:

    1) The single biggest flaw and the one that kills its “best book” chances for me is the utter implausibility of not just one but both of the narratives even existing. I recognized this the first time through and it was even stronger the second time—I just could not ever convince myself that Julie’s narrative was possible. Why was von Linden allowing her to essentially write a novel about her youth with Maddie? It just never made sense, and made less sense the longer it lasted. There was just never enough “confession” in it to make it plausible for me. Maybe if she had stuck to the format of the questions von Linden posed to Julie it would have made more sense. Or perhaps if it was a transcript of a set of oral interrogations it would have worked for me.

    Then, once we get to the end of Julie’s implausible narrative, we have Maddie’s implausible narrative – she several times states that she shouldn’t be writing it, that it could get her in trouble, etc. and yet she keeps going. There is no internal evidence in either narrative that Julie or Maddie is a compulsive journal-keeper or anything like that – why is it so essential that Maddie write down everything she writes? Again, perhaps if it was more structured as a report, or if it was all written after the fact, it would work. But while things are happening – she’s hiding up in a barn attic writing this? I didn’t buy it. On top of that, Maddie spends a really inordinate time talking about how clever Julie’s narrative is – which just seems a bit *something* of Wein.

    All first person narratives are inherently implausible, but the problem here is that this isn’t just some narrative that could be going on in the head of the main character. Wein asks us to affirmatively think about the specifics of how the narratives are being written. It is part of the story and constantly remarked upon by both Julie and Maddie, which makes me more likely to examine it in a critical light. After all, Julie’s section, in particular, is *necessary* to the plot of Maddie’s section. There has to be an actual physical document that Julie wrote and which Maddie can read in order for the action of the second half to exist. This makes the mechanics of how Julie’s narrative came to be much more fair game for analysis, in my opinion. Maddie’s section, perhaps I could forgive more easily, except that again, Wein just keeps mentioning the specifics of it (that eternapen). It would have been so easy to just write the whole thing in past tense and the reader could make her own choice as to when and where and how it was written. But Wein invites us to examine Maddie’s motives for writing what she does, and for me they come up short.

    2) Small but key: the switch in Julie and Maddie’s IDs is never explained, and it is (I think) a pretty severe narrative flaw, since Wein specifically makes the point that had Julie had her papers in order she would in all likelihood not have been picked up by the Gestapo

    3) I think you give Wein too quick a pass on the sudden crack-shot abilities of Maddie. It’s basically impossible that someone who had never fired a gun a couple weeks before would be able to make the shot she does in the dark. The problem is not just that this is a mistake, but that it is a hugely important moment in the novel which is prepared for by the story of the Aunt, Kiss Me Hardy, etc. Wein, for whatever reason, *needs* Maddie to shoot Julie, and, unfortunately, the way she choose to do it doesn’t work at all.

    4) WAY too many coincidences: Jamie keeps showing up at just the right time. The Thibauts. Julie’s grandmother. Everything just seems to fit together a bit too neatly.

    5) Von Linden’s suicide. Completely silly, completely unnecessary.

    All these things can be forgiven to different extents, but they are all, I think, legitimate flaws – not just interpretative differences. When I compare this to ASK THE PASSENGERS, BRIDES OF ROLLROCK, MONSTROUS BEAUTY, TITANIC, SERAPHINA, and THE DIVINERS, I see a book that is trying *way* too hard, and, unfortunately stumbles just a few too many times.

    Finally, I should note that aside from those books I just mentioned, plus maybe BOMB and CHOPSTICKS on the outside edges, there aren’t any better books this year. 7th or 9th best book of the year is pretty freaking great, and I loved CNV both times I read it (and, for the record, I would be shocked if it didn’t get a Printz Honor), but for me it doesn’t measure up to the truly great novels of the year.

  6. While it took me a little while to suspend disbelief in terms of the narratives being written in the manner they are, especially the first one, I did eventually and just went with it. In fact, I think that I was able do so made me all the more impressed with Wein’s writing. So I’m interested that Mark was unable to get past this. Is this true for many other readers?

    I found the torture references incredibly intense on my first reading, so much so that I had to keep putting the book aside for days and weeks. I know most say they couldn’t put it down, but I had the opposite response until I hit the reveal. Then indeed I could not put it down.

    I’m very intrigued by how readers respond to the underlines. I read an ARC long before there was any buzz and just sort of figured that someone had sent me a marked-up one by mistake. Occasionally I’d wonder why this person underlined such odd things and then forget about it as I became more and more engrossed in the narrative. And then was so amused and pleased to discovered what they were all about! So I’m curious to how people consider the underlines in the finished book as they are much more evidently there for a reason than stupid me considered.

  7. Beth says:

    To me, all fiction is, to a certain degree, a suspension of disbelief. And if I can believe in the people and, to a lesser extent, the worldbuilding, I’ll gladly suspend that disbelief. In fact, I’ll usually do it automatically, without any deliberation, because that’s just how I read.

    I remember appreciating that the torture references were so vague (ha! not quite) on the first read, and I remember being shocked and horrified (still am) at the viciousness described by Georgia Penn and of the confrontation described by Maddie.

    I was glad there were underlines – they made me think that somehow, something more was going on than a diary of a betrayal (which I found difficult to read). In an odd way, they gave me hope.

  8. Eric says:

    First read CNV via netgalley and that kindle file was without underlines so finding the underlines in the finished book was disappointing. I don’t see why we need any clues. (That was the only disappointment of the second reading. I came away even more impressed on reading two and can’t wait until reading three.
    @Mark maddie went shooting with Jamie on one of her visits to Scotland (not pistol shooting, but still it should have helped a bit)
    On von Linden…on my second read I thought a lot more about his motivations. He obviously feels guilty, and misses his daughter (who Julie may even remind him of). Allowing Julie to write her unusual narrative confession allows him to put off sending her to her death. (We even see evidence that von Linden’s superiors are impatient with him.)
    On Maddie’s writing….I had no problem with the pen stuff. she was stuck in that barn for a long time, bored out of her mind. why wouldn’t she occupy herself with something to pass the time?
    On allusions/references. I haven’t watched the life and death of colonel blimp in a couple years but I’m definitely going to watch it again before my third reading. I kept wanting there to be some sort of message to maddie embedded in the film reference. Maybe Wein is simply referencing a superb example of an entirely platonic same gender friendship. A friendship that spans decades and wars, so maybe Julie mentions the film to lament the long lasting friendship that maddie and Julie are being robbed of.
    Which brings me to my number one reason for loving this book more than any other this year……it contains zero angst filed teenage romance…No love triangle, no will they won’t they, no relationships. So very refreshing to find a YA book with out all that silly stuff. Here sex is a weapon or a means of control. Thank you Elizabeth Wein!

  9. Wendy says:

    Maddie’s accurate shooting was fully, completely believable to me as something she was able to do out of intense need, intense love, and considerable luck–rather like mothers lifting cars off their children, though the biochemical aspect is different.

    I thought, and I’m aware that this is me reading into things that aren’t necessarily there, that there was an unspoken sexual/voyeuristic component to von Linden letting Julie live so long and tell the story so circuitously.

  10. Wendy says:

    (Eric, I think there is a lot implied in the Maddie / Jamie Beaufort-Stuart that you don’t acknowledge… not saying that it shouldn’t work for you as a relationship-free YA, but I don’t think most readers see it that way.)

  11. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    My favorite book of the year. I adore it. I wish I had the time to reread it for this discussion.

    For some of Mark’s points, here is my POV: 1. This wasn’t an interrogation of Julie. It was Julie’s of the Von Linden, and part of that was seeing what he values (he fancies himself a lover of literature) so uses that to, well, in a way seduce him. At first it seemed too much but then I realized it was her using and toying with VL. As for Maddie, what was said above about her time in the barn.

    2. One thing I adored about CNV was how few things were spelled out. To me, the switch is implied to be knowing done by Julie when she thinks the plane is going down, to help Maddie who would be truly SOL with her own papers. Julie at that point thinks she can work her way without them, and she does to a point. (I’ll see if I can find the page numbers where I think this is implied).

    3. As above, I think its not the first time she’s handled a gun, but I’d need to doublecheck.

    4. I thought Julie being there was deliberate because of her family ties, so not a coincidence? Had the original plan been succesful, she would have revealed herself to her family.

    5. I thought VL’s suicide could be read a few ways. One, Julie was succesful to a point in “turning” him thru her narrative so he felt guilty. Two, he realized he’d been played the entire time and that the consequences for this would be extreme so suicide was either easy, or more honorable to his family. Either way, it showed that Julie’s narrative did part of what it was supposed to do: showed Julie in charge, intellectually and emotionally even though not physically, and VL reacting.

  12. Wendy says:

    Yes, yes, to all of Liz’s points; I was starting to doubt my own memory of the book. It seemed like any time I thought the book was being too serendipitous or coincidental, it quickly came clear that that wasn’t what was happening at all.

    Monica, by the way, this was also not a “read in one sitting, can’t put it down” book for me, either. It was too heavy and detailed for me to process too much at a time, and most people I’ve talked with about the book had the same experience.

  13. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Romance/Friendship: again with the love of this book and what is implied. Like others, I read this as a friendship story, with no romance (and given what now appears to be the obligatory-fall-in-love-with-my-true-love thing going on in almost all books, what a relief.) I think valid arguments could be made of something going on with Maddie/Jamie, as well as Maddie/Julie, but that the book is crafted so that its up to the reader to determine, not the author to tell.

  14. Mark Flowers says:

    Beth: “To me, all fiction is, to a certain degree, a suspension of disbelief. And if I can believe in the people and, to a lesser extent, the worldbuilding, I’ll gladly suspend that disbelief. In fact, I’ll usually do it automatically, without any deliberation, because that’s just how I read”

    I completely agree, and said so in my original comment. My objection is not with suspension of disbelief in a general sense, but in this specific book, which calls attention to the facts of the implausibility.

    Liz: “This wasn’t an interrogation of Julie. It was Julie’s of the Von Linden, and part of that was seeing what he values (he fancies himself a lover of literature) so uses that to, well, in a way seduce him.”

    Really?? This wasn’t an interrogation of Julie? That’s why they were using torture on her? I just ask you to think about an actual Gestapo prison (of which we have plenty of knowledge) and consider whether it ever happened or could have happened that a prisoner produced a 200 page novel (partially on old prescription pads and other loose ends of paper) just because the commandant happened to love literature. It’s just not possible.

    For Maddie – yes, I know that she tells us she’s bored. She also tells us that she could get in major trouble for writing what she’s writing. Again, why if she’s bored does she turn to doing something that is so dangerous?

    I still don’t believe the shooting, regardless of a little bit of practice with a different kind of gun, but I don’t particularly care to belabor that point, as I have no actual experience with guns and don’t intend to.

  15. Maureen E says:

    Liz, as far as 4) goes, yes I think that’s the point, and part of the tragic irony when it’s the simple not-looking-the-right way that gets her caught. As far as the coincidences with the Thibaut’s go, I don’t think it is a coincidence–this is a fairly small town and I would guess that there were instances when, especially in France, there was this kind of division within a family.

    Von Linden’s suicide reads as completely believable to me, given that he knows he would shortly be facing a major inquiry about his handling of the whole situation and the loss of the headquarters. It’s despair, pure and simple, and I thought was in keeping with his characterization as a man who teeters on the edge of doing the right thing but simply doesn’t have the backbone to actually do it (as opposed to Anna Engel and Georgia Penn, for instance).

    I think the major point with both Julie & Maddie’s narratives is that they are not writing because of the interrogation or being stuck in a barn. They’re writing to stay sane, to hold on to the part of themselves that keep them going. And since a lot of that is Julie-and-Maddie, the sensational team, that’s what comes through. Julie’s narrative is a lot more twisty because of all the other things she’s trying to do simultaneously. But the idea that they’re both stuck in horrible situations (Julie’s arguably MORE horrible, at least at first) and that writing is the only release they have, whether it’s prudent or wise–yes, I can believe that.

    “I thought, and I’m aware that this is me reading into things that aren’t necessarily there, that there was an unspoken sexual/voyeuristic component to von Linden letting Julie live so long and tell the story so circuitously.”

    Wendy, I like that–it does make sense in the context of Von Linden’s character as I read him.

    I have the UK version, not the US, so I don’t know if there’s any difference with the underlinings, but they were just faint enough that I wasn’t quite sure whether they were meant to be there at first. I guess I’m trying to say that they did work for me, though I could see that not being the case for some readers. (Because I bought a UK version, I also read it very early and didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, so I think that might have helped?)

    Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving, fellow Americans! I’m off to eat some turkey now. :)

  16. GraceAnne says:

    This is the best YA book I have read this year. It is the best book I have read this year. You have described it thoroughly, although I confess I did not see the flaws that you did.
    It is a masterpiece.

  17. Sophie Brookover says:

    Mark, I think what Liz meant is that Julie’s manuscript is an interrogation of Von Linden. Nobody is disputing that Julie was interrogated & tortured.

    As for Maddie, I just re-read the part where she & Julie are talking about their greatest fears, and Maddie names court-martial as her #1 fear, which would SEEM to lend credence to the notion that it’s implausible that Maddie would write her story down, too. I interpret it differently, though: I see writing their stories (for both women) as an act of sanity-preservation. Maddie has nothing but time and worry on her hands, and needs to write her story to keep from going mad, as well as to steel her nerves (or to borrow another literary allusion, to screw her courage to the sticking place).

    For characterization, exploration & development of themes, bravura but EARNED plotting and ability to craft seamlessly integrated narratives that can be read multiple ways over multiple readings, there is just no comparison between this & any other book I’ve read this year. I know there are many books I NEED to read, but this one sets an incredibly high bar.

    I’m going to continue my re-read, and cry several more buckets of tears for Lady Beaufort-Stuart & her always-open windows. SOB!

  18. TK says:

    I agree with both Mark and all the supporters of this book, and I believe its award chances will rest largely on how the 2013 committee feels – more like Mark, or more like the proponents of it here. And how much they are willing to overlook vs revel in.
    The thing about literary allusions… the concept of “literary” as a Printz criterion is a double-edged sword. Peter Pan, no problem. Ariadne, Theseus, Faustus, etc…. hmmm. That’s the point when I start to ask 1) who is she writing for? and 2) why was this published teen? Which is a serious pondering that the committee may muse on, too, not generally to the benefit of a book when on the table for in-depth debate.

  19. Mark Flowers says:

    Sophie – I understood the point about interrogating Von Linden, but Liz also said this it was not an interrogation of Julie, which is belied 1) by the torture and 2) by the explicit references to the questions Von Linden has posed to Julie. In addition, while I (again) completely understand that one function of the narrative is as a challenge of kinds to Von Linden, I remain utterly unconvinced that anything like it would be possible in any world that includes Nazis, even literate ones.

    I also hear and understand the justification of Maddie’s narrative as “keeping her sanity” but I have a couple of problems with this. Most importantly, the only evidence we have that this is true is that Maddie says it over and over again, which is about as “tell not show” as you can get. There is no hint in book that Maddie has some specific connection with writing or journalling. She just has to, in order for there to be a book. Also, seriously, how many times does she state that she shouldn’t be writing? After the second time, it just started sounding to me like Wein admitting that she knew the whole thing was implausible and hadn’t come up with a good answer for it. Second, “to keep her sane”? Really? How long is she stuck up in the barn before she starts writing? A few hours? How long does the whole thing take? A few weeks? It seems like someone so scared of court martial, not to mention the possibility that her writing could lead to the death of several people close to her might be able to hold out just a bit longer before giving up and saying that she has to write or go crazy. Did she try playing cards?

    I agree with you entirely that CNV has incredibly strong theme, characterization, plotting, etc., but I’m a little puzzled by your comment that there’s “no comparison” to other books this year. Have you read SERAPHINA? BRIDES OF ROLLROCK (talk about integrated narrative threads that can be read multiple ways)? MONSTROUS BEAUTY (again – multiple narrative threads that repay close and careful analysis)?

    I really do not mean to denigrate Wein’s achievement in this book (seriously! I promise!). I gave CNV five stars on goodreads, and stand by that rating on a second read. But I feel like the discussion about it is taking on a tone that is entirely inconducive to a discussion of its literary merits and a comparison between it and the other amazing books that have come out this year. I especially think that many people are getting carried away by the (really impressive) emotional impact that Wein achieves to the point of being able to ignore some real flaws. It reminds me quite a bit of the discussion of OKAY FOR NOW last year on Heavy Medal. That book was a one of a kind in terms of its voice, and a tour de force of emotional impact. But it had major plotting and narrative flaws that its defenders seemed unwilling or unable to acknowledge. I am one who believes OFN was robbed of some Newbery love, but I came to that decision after carefully considering the flaws, rereading the book and weighing the strengths and weaknesses. I think it is entirely possible to do the same for CNV. But in order to do so, we need to look the flaws straight on, rather than waving our hands and saying “willing suspension of disbelief!” (a phrase, btw, which was intended by Coleridge to refer to allowing the reader to believe in fantastical elements of a story, not ignoring implausibility).

    Finally – I haven’t heard anyone’s thoughts on my concern about the unexplained ID swap. Was there something I missed?

  20. H. Munca says:

    This is going to seem a bit oblique, maybe, but I’m really interested in this plausibility aspect and the weight it should be (or shouldn’t, or isn’t) given. I guess historical fiction has different standards than alternate history or historical fantasy or straight-up Medievalesque fantasy. But the degree to which it’s going to bother the reader, surely, is individual and education-dependent. If there are a bunch or WWII buffs on the committee, I imagine the committee being more bothered by the Nazi or marksmanship issues than if the committee were made up of, say, clones of ME. So surely it’s really tricky to say how much that kind of thing SHOULD bother them, isn’t it?

    I mean in SERAPHINA (not to pick on it, but it’s the only one I’ve read of the ones you mentioned) you have a fantasy world, Medieval flavoured, fair enough. But you also have things like houppelandes and harpsichords in use at the same time. There are all kinds of juxtapositions like that that could, potentially, be jarring to the historical purist. (Personally, I enjoyed them, but I have an anarchic bent; the point is if they COULD be, does that mean they SHOULD be?)

    That said, the problem of being as eloquent as Julie is under pressure is a real problem, to say nothing of writing legibly on the backs of prescription pads. You basically have to decide to ignore that stuff with CNV, and it’s not dependent on your historical education.

  21. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Let’s see, Julie obtained the information she needed and aquired a means and method of getting that information to the people who needed it to complete her mission. Julie’s ability to do this in both formal and informal situations had already been established. Given the layers of unreliability going on, what exactly went on when is hard to establish in that the old “but the narrator is unreliable” card can be played at various points, esp w/ Julie’s manuscript that is serving multiple roles: conveying information to the resistance, keeping herself sane, working VL to keep herself alive, and working VL to obtain what is still necessary to achieve her mission. The manuscript itself, given to VL, is lulling him into thinking he has achieved his objective — it’s part of why and how it’s written. This adds to the ability of Julie to complete her mission succesfully where VL does not.

    If someone goes into a book convinced no matter what it’s implausible, then, well, that’s hard to argue with. I prefer to look within the book, though goodness knows there are parts of books where factually inaccuracies destroy the believability for me (the old pumping gas in NJ issue, for example).

  22. Wendy says:

    Mark, I do look forward to discussing THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND here–I thought it was great but not as great as CNV, and maybe I’ll be able to clarify why.

  23. LeAnn says:

    I’m still surprised when I read such high praise for this book. I thought it was okay. I didn’t think the friendship was written as being so strong yet we were supposed to think it was really strong. And I knew what was going on the whole time so I guess it wasn’t all that interesting. And enough with the intricacies of flying a plane. It was only okay. I gave it 3 out of 5 in Goodreads.

  24. Sophie Brookover says:

    Oh, buckets of blood! The point I was making about the interrogation is that by the time Julie is writing her narrative, she is no longer being interrogated. Her narrative is itself just as much an interrogation of von Linden as it is a story she is telling him. They are letting her heal (and are damn glad they did by the time Georgia Penn rolls into town). Von Linden (called Von Loewe in my galley — well, Liz’s galley, really) lets Julie go on with her novel about how she & Maddie went because a) she is revealing information about the WAAF/RAF & ATA — locations, training, habits/routines & so on, b) HE LIKES IT and c) he is either unaware of Julie’s manipulation of him, or, like her, he is so enjoying playing the Great Game with such a fine opponent that he can’t quite help himself and do what he knows is his duty (and in this regard, he is rather like Maddie, which…let’s chew on that comparison for a little while, shall we?).

    Yes, v.L. is a Nazi Haupsturmfuhrer Jerry bastard (as Julie would say) but he is also a person. This is not an implausibility issue, this is a three-dimensional characterization issue. v.L. has unexpected depth, which makes him not merely a figure of pee-inducing terror, but also a figure worthy of discussion. There is clearly some part of him that admires Julie, and devotion to Third Reich domination aside, is a little bit sorry to see her go. He is upbraided multiple times about it by his own CO, as I recall.

    I should have been clearer about my own reading this year — what I should have said is that this is the best book I have read SO FAR. I am very much looking forward to reading & discussing ROLLROCK, DIVINERS and MONSTROUS BEAUTY.

    As for the comparison with OKAY FOR NOW, I have to disagree there — that book positively GROANS under the weight of uneven characterizations, a last-minute happy ending and historically verifiable inaccuracies that made it impossible for me to either enjoy or admire it. I get what you’re saying about the “Oh, but I loooooove it!” factor. With CNV, however, there’s a much stronger case to be made on the book’s merits, which I know you agree are considerable. I think those of us who would vote for the gold for CNV *are* looking the flaws head-on — many commenters have addressed your concerns specifically & cogently, and that is why many of us are still saying “this remains my #1 book of the year so far.”

    Two things I would like to discuss some more are:

    1) why & whether we should get so het up about issues of plausibility/believability/accuracy with regard to historical fiction (and less so when it comes to fantasy or SF, say) and

    2) how in the world is this actually a YA book? To me, this is a bigger issue than its plausibility. Clearly, I love & admire this book, but I have to wonder why it wasn’t just published adult? This issue was a stumbling block for me last year on the RealCommittee, and I know the P&P reads “To be eligible, a title must have been designated by its publisher as being either a young adult book or one published for the age range that YALSA defines as “young adult,” i.e., 12 through 18.” and that the P&P doesn’t address the issue of what makes a YA book YA. I had a very illumination conversation about it with Karyn earlier this year and I would love to discuss it in more depth with you all!

  25. H. Munca says:

    #1 is what I was asking, but asked better! :)

    In re: #2, I was wondering that too. They’re not teenagers, here. That would be even MORE implausible.

  26. Mark Flowers says:

    Plausibility. Plausibility is a function of the author’s contract with the reader. If Rachel Hartman clearly delineates that she is not writing a historical book, but a fantasy one (which: duh) then issues of anachronism are beside the point (also, for the record, those musical instrument *were* available in the middle ages). BUT! If she tells us “this is the way Dragons behave and this is how things work in the fantasy world I have created” and then she violates that later on, then we have an issue of plausibility, unless there is a reason for the violation. Plausibility has nothing at all to do with historical fiction vs. speculative fiction – an SF novel can just as easily strain plausibility as a historical one. If Garth Nix had told as that Khemri was writing his narrative on little slips of paper while he was in the middle of the action of the book, I would have been just as worried about the plausibility of CONFUSION OF PRINCES. But he doesn’t. He relies on a standard contract with the reader in which first person narratives are assumed to be acceptable representations of what the narrator thought and felt during the action of the story.

    Wein does something different. She sets up an entirely new contract in which she says: “look at this! Julie is writing these actual words during the events of the novel, while (or just after) being tortured.” Wein has created an entirely different set of expectations for how to judge her narrative plausibility, and as such opens herself up to a different set of criticisms. We are allowed to ask, in the world of this story (which happens to be the real world of WWII) is it plausible that a captured spy would be allowed to write at such length just because the head Nazi enjoyed the writing?

    Here’s your argument: “Von Linden … lets Julie go on with her novel about how she & Maddie went becausea) she is revealing information about the WAAF/RAF & ATA — locations, training, habits/routines & so on, b) HE LIKES IT and c) he is either unaware of Julie’s manipulation of him, or, like her, he is so enjoying playing the Great Game with such a fine opponent that he can’t quite help himself and do what he knows is his duty”

    Thank you – I think this is a much better head-on addressing of the issue than I’ve seen so far. I still don’t buy it, but I think it’s a fair argument. Here’s why I don’t buy it: Julie has been tortured at great length at the direct order of von Linden. Finally, she trades the wireless codes for various favors. She trades all but one code in exchange for various items of clothes. Then she trades the last code for paper, on which von Linden expects her to answer certain questions, in exchange for a little lenience in how she tells her story. How does this last exchange fit with the first set of trades? Remember that von Linden goes so far as to give her back her clothes in reverse order so as to make her re-dress each time for added humiliation. How is this same Nazi willing to give her practically unlimited paper and time to write a story with practically no value to him (she never really answers any of his questions)? He likes the story. OK – yes, he does. But at what point does that start? Why does he let her go on so long? And again, how do we square this with the knowledge we have of what he had been doing to Julie just before the start of the narrative?

    Personally, I didn’t think that von Linden was a terribly well written character, but I’m willing to put that aside for a second. Let’s say, OK, he’s a three dimensional character with weird quirks and different parts to his personality. Aren’t we still allowed to ask how likely it is that this particular character would live in this particular world (again, setting aside that it is realistic historical fiction – just using what we know of the world from the book)? And that he would just happen to be the one in charge of Julie, who is perfectly tailored to use him to get her story out?

    The switched ID. The implausible (even if you’re able to justify it) narratives. The coincidences. The too perfect gunshot. All these things strike me as symptoms of a writer who knew she had a really really good idea for a story (and boy did she) and got carried away with writing it before she had ironed out some of the problems. This happens all. the. time. in fiction.

  27. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Sophie, let me see if I can dig up my notes from when I read this b/c I was considering the “why ya” when i read it.

  28. Angela says:

    This discussion is great – CNV is probably my fav book of the year, too. has anyone listened to the audio? My second read was the audio, and though the “reveal” was already there, I thought that the audio alleviated some of the issues that folks have with the book- Julie is a bit more transparent in the audio and also you can hear the pain that some feel is missing. if you are going to re-read, try the audio!

  29. Els Kushner says:

    This is a very tangential side note, but I believe H. Munca’s point re SERAPHINA is that in a strictly historical narrative, houppelandes (circa 1380, according to Wikipedia) and harpsichords (16th c. or later) shouldn’t be together in the same story at the same time, but in fantasy with a medieval-ish setting it’s okay. With which I agree: of course the standards are different for realistic fiction.

    As for the YA-ness, I wondered the same thing; I hope it’s okay if I cut and paste from the author’s blog [actually a comment on her blog post of Oct 28]:

    “The simplest answer is: I’m a YA author, and my YA agent sold this book to 3 different YA publishers, and nobody ever questioned that it was YA.

    …I think that in the case of CNV, it has to do with the fact that both heroines are unfinished as adults – at least to my mind. Neither of them knows what they want to be when they grow up, they’re untrained (apart from their war work), and they’re sexually inexperienced (I think that’s pretty clear). They’re in the process of forming the emotional and vocational bonds that they’ll use as adults. Okay, by the end of the book they’re no longer teens, but they certainly aren’t fully fledged grownups. But they’re on their way. (or.. you know what I mean.)

    So, yeah… that would be my distinction… YA implies some character growth and maturity takes place during the book which wouldn’t necessarily be there in an adult book.”

    [Els here again--I realize that an author's own opinions about his/her book aren't necessarily definitive, but thought this might be illuminating for others, as it was for me.]

  30. Beth Saxton says:

    Well Karyn, if nothing else you’ve convinced me to give this another read :-) I love this discussion.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      I have so very many thoughts!

      Mark, I do want to thank you for being brave enough to take the opposition position– it’s so good to be called on our lovefest. I still think it’s the best book of the year, but I also think you’ve raised some really valid points.

      I find myself wondering, too, if there is a gendered component to our responses. This is a book about female friendship and female coming of age in an era when the world was opening up to women in an amazing, life-altering way. Perhaps there is a thematic resonance that hits female readers more deeply, and as a result makes us more forgiving of flaws because Wein has tapped into areas we so rarely see in YA literature? I’d love to hear from the women who didn’t love this, because I totally know you are out there. Tell me how crazy this idea is.

      As far as why YA, I had much the same sense that the author had, I think; they are older young adults, but what, 19, 20? Julie and Maddie are still girls, still learning themselves and the world. The time they live in may have made them grow up in some ways faster than they would have, but their innocence and youth (and not just theirs) is exactly how Maddie ends up flying the plane. This is an exciting adventure; I think for both of them it’s shocking how awful it becomes, even in their war-torn lives. Maddie says as much — how protected, basically, she realizes they have been, in England, when she is reflecting on what she sees in Ormaie. Also, for what it’s worth, I’ve had success with this and teen readers, who absolutely were invested in the coming of age aspects.

      Plausibility: I think this is a much better word than accuracy, although the Printz criteria only point to accuracy. I can absolutely see how the premise can be seen as implausible. It’s exactly the reason I did not even finish Jasper Jones last year. In this case, by the time I realized that there were questions of how likely the entire set up was (and for me, it was vL’s patience; everything else, including Maddie’s need to write, never gave me a moments pause), I was so far in it that there was no turning back. Last year, I said, flawed premise, and never dug further and the committee took the opposite angle — presumably the premise issue in JJ came up, but was considered a minor flaw in a brilliant book. I’m hoping this year’s committee can also get past the tree to see the forest.

      And let’s talk about vL. Here’s how I saw it — he is educated (headmaster). He is, in Ormaie, somewhat removed from the Nazi machinery and the spell Hitler’s conviction seemed to cast over everyone. He’s lonely and — given that he has Isolde in school in Switzerland — perhaps has some doubts about everything. And here is this girl who will not break. 6 weeks of torture, and the best he can get is that she makes a deal with him; she trades her knowledge for her clothing. For those pointing to the power plays here, I think the power play began long before Julie’s narrative starts. And then she asks for paper; she trades that last set of code for PAPER, despite how much she has wanted her clothing back. vL, as we see him, is exactly the sort of guy to be intrigued by this. He’s not a perv, he doesn’t take pleasure in the torture he doles out — but this? This unexpected rebellion, this spark of the entirely unexpected, I can see how he would be fascinated, and that she turns to literature, clearly something he loves, for the shape of her last request? And I can see how, a few days worth of writing in, he would stop caring so much about the details Julie is providing about the war effort because I think he’s fallen a little bit in love with her (not sexual, but an intellectual engagement — witness the references Julue makes to those late night literature conversations). It’s a little iffy that he lets her get away with the start of the story, though, but I think the Scheherazade comments may hold the clue; vL would know that convention, storytelling as a means to stave off execution, and I could imagine he is — not amused, but in some way into playing that out. And of course, here is where we as readers bring our own sense to the book. I am willing to believe that in those 6 weeks Julie saw enough that the beginnings of an idea of how to play it out, how to accomplish her mission, has taken root. She’s gambling, but she is very good at reading people, so she’s not gambling blind. In my mind, the thing that kept her strong during the active torture was probably planning this whole thing — how she can get paper, how she can play Engel. The story began long before where we come in to it, and we know we are missing so much (witness Engel’s cigarettes). I love that aspect of the writing, and am impressed by it — Wein makes the reader cpmplicit in the narrative, allows us to make of the narrative, to some extent, what we want to make of it. It’s pretty damn amazing, really.

      Back to vL — my read of him, through Julie’s eyes but also through Maddie via the Thibaults, and vL’s relationship with La Cadette and the fact that he comes to the Thibaults for supper every week, is also why I have no problem with his suicide as plausible — he messed up, a lot, with Julie (we see this via Ferber’s memo in Julie’s manuscript and Maddie and Georgia’s perspectives), and of course with his HQ being blown to bits. If he is facing a camp as punishment, and he knows that, of course he would kill himself.

      The switched id and the eterpen still bother me, but it took three readings to really see those flaws (for me — I realize ymmv). And even as certain flaws bubbled up, so did other — what’s the opposite of a flaw, here? Brilliances, in terms of literary quality. So there was a balance.

      In the end, no book is perfect (I could tell you what’s wrong with Jellicoe Road or Chime or The Returning, to name a few favorites I point to often as excellent books), but we have to weigh the pieces. The merits (oh! that’s the opposite of a flaw. D’oh) against the flaws. When all is said and done, and acknowledging that a few other short list titles are due for a reread, on the whole this still stands as the best piece of craft I’ve seen all year.

  31. Wendy says:

    The “too-perfect” gunshot isn’t a flaw in the story that needed to be ironed out–it IS the story. Everything leads to and centers around that moment. It’s supposed to be an extraordinary act, and not only of bravery/courage/love. If Maddie had been a crack shot all along, if it was something she was known for, the impact wouldn’t be the same.

    Similarly, von Linden doesn’t “just happen” to be the one who is Julie’s captor; that, too, IS the story. If that hadn’t been the case, there wouldn’t be any book. World War Two is full of stories (any time period is, of course, but there always seems like extra serendipity involved in this war) that will never be known because a key person who could have passed the story along died, because someone who could have kept a fascinating diary didn’t have access to paper. This is one story for which all the pieces fell into place. People were allowed to live for very strange reasons, too. Many of them sexual, which is part of what drives my feeling that there was a sexual component to von Linden’s letting Julie live/write/tell stories. But the fact that it does seem barely plausible and certainly not very likely is part of what creates the tension–the reader feels that surely, at any moment, von Linden is going to come to his senses and have her killed.

  32. Mark Flowers says:

    @Wendy, I disagree with you strongly about the too perfect shot being the story. I think the most plausible way the story could have gone at that point would have for Maddie to shoot Julie but *not* cleanly kill her, which would have been so, so gut-wrenchingly horrible, but would have taken the same courage to commit, but even more courage to accept that she had screwed it up. The clean kill/mercy killing just seems way too Hollywood, which is perhaps why it *didn’t* affect me as deeply as it did others.

    As for von Linden – yes, you’re absolutely right, that IS the story. That’s my whole problem. It’s too much to hang a whole story on.

  33. Kristin says:

    I really enjoyed the commentary on this thread, and have to say I gasped internally when I saw an entire post devoted to this book – what I consider the standout of the year. I think there are definitely some questions as to the plausibility of the story. The author says herself in the note in the back that this incident (and incidents just like it) DID NOT and really in the end COULD NOT have happened. Women were not allowed to fly spy missions over occupied France during WW II. She worked within the parameters of what was true historically to make this event possible, but there is no record of such a thing occurring. I believe Elizabeth Wein meant to tell a larger story using a historical framework that she felt communicated a bigger, more important truth. I don’t think this a story about truth in the concrete sense. This is more accurately a book about lying. This story asks readers what they are willing to believe about friendship, communication, values and a host of other things.

    There is a line from Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock, which I think accurately describes Code Name Verity. In Finnikin, one of the main characters leads an entire nation of displaced people back together and back home based on information that turns out to be a lie. When found out, this character states that there are bigger and better things out there sometimes than the truth. The truth was not what led those people home. Was she wrong? Maybe. That’s up to the reader to decide. Code Name Verity puts that same line of thinking in front of its own audience. What are you willing to accept about this story in order to see a larger picture? Maybe you disagree with the author’s approach of telling a story that didn’t and couldn’t really have happened. From the beginning things are wrong. Julie is lying at the same time that she is telling the truth. Her story isn’t about relaying real events to the Nazis or even readers. This is a story about friendship.

    I like the idea that Von Linden may have had some kind of voyeuristic/sexual preoccupation with Verity’s story. I worried throughout that book that Von Linden was going to directly assault Julie in some way because of how his personality was communicated through Julie. This part of the story simply adds another layer of terror though. I don’t necessarily think it has any bearing on this whole problem of “truth” in this book. On another note, Jamie’s position in the novel seemed to be more of a distraction (not an unwelcome one), but not necessarily something that had a huge impact on the story. I loved his character, and I loved his relationship with Maddie (simply on the friend level, it worked). Just the same, these questions about Von Linden or Jamie seem beside the point a bit. It’s been some time since I read this book, and I have to say I forgot many of the details Karyn and the others mentioned. I am planning to reread it for an adult book discussion focusing on teen materials that I run at my library. It’ll be a hellish experience. The first time was bad enough, but I felt this book would have more to give on additional readings even then. I think the best books do. The first time, you read to get through the narrative arc. The second and even third time, you read for nuances. The entire story of Code Name Verity changes based on what you later learn. That’s big. I’ll be sorely disappointed if this comes up with nothing in January.

  34. Maureen E says:

    Mark, as someone who is 1) a very emotional reader and 2) hugely invested as CNV as a fan, I’m probably as guilty as anyone of being blind to its potential faults. But I do want to say that loving a book is not necessarily less valid or literary than disliking it, although it’s easier especially with a consensus to be less academically rigorous in response. And I think that Liz has a point–if you’re convinced that it’s implausible, apparently nothing any of us say is going to convince you otherwise.

    (I’m the one who nominated SERAPHINA for the Pyrite Printz, and I’m in the middle of BRIDES and think it’s great. I ecstatic if either, especially SERAPHINA, won an Honor, but I’m not personally convinced that either are less flawed than CNV, though in quite different ways.)

    Sophie, your point about YA or not is fascinating–I tend to end up on the side of yes it is, but more because of style and tone than because they’re necessarily still teens. Though it’s quite possible as Karyn points out, that they’re 19 or 20.

    Timeline–it’s at least a few weeks; Karyn mentions six. To me, given that Maddie is alone in a foreign country and not sure whether her best friend is alive or dead, besides the fact that she has French Resistance laddies feeling her up–yes, the writing out of desperation in order to keep her sanity does work. But again, this is a point where I’m convinced and other readers may not be.

    I largely agree with Karyn’s comment and think she has a fascinating theory about gendered responses. And Sophie–YES on all your points.

    Finally Jamie/Maddie–I think that the text certainly hints at that relationship in the future while also acknowledging that the timing just is not going to happen. I’m thinking particularly of this passage (pg. 428 UK version): “Then just as I started to put power on, this hand on my shoulder. Just like that–nothing said. He just put his hand through the bulkhead, exactly as she’d done, and squeezed my shoulder. He has very strong fingers. And he kept his hand there the whole way home, even when he was reading the map and giving me headings. So I am not flying alone now after all.” However! I do see Eric’s point in that the focus of the story is so much not on romance (unless you’re reading Maddie/Julie differently than I personally do) and that that’s a very rare thing in YA at present, especially female friendship.

    I’ve written this in about three different parts, so many apologies if it seems disjointed.

  35. Anonymous says:

    About the “too-perfect” gunshot: it’s not implausible, it’s literally impossible. And I personally think it damages that scene. If you read carefully, it’s a “double-tap,” which Maddie has been training to do in her brief shooting lessons. Putting aside the impossibilities of Maddie being behind bushes, under the bridge, shooting up, in the dark, with a handgun and not a rifle–heck, putting aside that she shot the other prisoner’s *chains* with all those handicaps, and that this is not a skill even a talented beginner could have–there’s the physics of what happens when you shoot a standing person in the head. The body crumples instantaneously–even a marksman could not hit the same spot twice in quick succession. Yet it is very deliberately and clearly supposed to be exactly that. See the word “blows” in the passage:

    “KISS ME, HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!”
    Turned her face away from me to make it easier.
    And I shot her.
    I saw her body flinch–the blows knocked her head aside as though she’d been thumped in the face. Then she was gone.

    I agree with Mark Flowers: Maddie should have killed Julie with a messy shot or two–cumulatively lethal. The impossible double-tap was there only to spare the readers’ feelings. We are meant to believe Julie didn’t suffer; we are meant to think Maddie will be able to console herself with that fact. It’s too close to telling me how to feel as a reader, and that makes me aware of the author in this scene. Killing Julie at all at that moment was merciful, I’m grown up enough to understand that.

    This is a masterful piece of literature–look at me, complaining about a single letter “s” making a word plural– but it does suffer in this way: you can sometimes see the author wrangling with it, manipulating it, as in this case (and some of the other cases mentioned). It sometimes doesn’t look effortless. But it still deserves any award you want to give it for what it accomplishes, and a long, long life on the shelves.

  36. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    I’m not personally a fan of “here is how i would rewrite the book, and if it’s not how I would have written, it’s flawed.”

    Re the gun: within the pages of the text, Maddie has gone shooting and shot one or two pheasants; practiced to the degree that those around her call her a crack shot; shot the chains between two men so that neither were injured but the chain was broken. It has shown that Maddie knows how to shoot a gun.

  37. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Maureen, given the Obligatory Romance Plot that comes up in so many books, that CNV is so light in that area — I agree there is stuff there to see potential in the future for M/J, but appreciated more than words could say that there was no hot one true love romance going on here.

  38. kerry says:

    SO interested in this discussion! I’ve only read cnv once (in its final published form) and I admit that I didn’t pick up a lot of these flaws and implausibilities (it’s possible that I missed some because I started crying around the middle of the book and didn’t really stop – this WAS a can’t-put-it-down book for me).

    I can’t speak to any of the physics of shooting, since I know nothing at all about it – to my really very ignorant sensibility, it seemed entirely possible that Maddie could make the shot(s), so that didn’t muck up the narrative for me. I could have done without the grandmother cropping up, but not much else was out of place for me.

    On the subject of writing: I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction about both world wars, and right now I’ve got a book going about nurses in WWII in the Pacific. One of the common threads in a lot of these books, though, is just how very many people – even really unlikely ones, even ones in improbable situations and with very scarce resources – kept some kind of journal or record or diary of their experiences. I remember reading a snippet from some man’s daybook, during the Blitz; he had some sort of very menial job, I can’t recall doing what, and his education had been very short indeed – but he kept his daybook with phonetically-spelled words and no proper grammar, documenting days and nights during the Blitz, putting out fires and sheltering during air raids and such. People find all kinds of incredible ways to write their stories, especially during wars, and so Maddie’s protests that she shouldn’t write, and Julie’s acrobatics to be permitted to write, didn’t strike me as wrong or odd.

    In my own mind, I’ve given this book the Printz. Brides of Rollrock is a close runner-up, but I’m still waiting for someone to make me see why Seraphina is so highly regarded.

    But Code Name Verity is a book that, simply in reading it, had a life-changing effect; I’ve read some excellent books this year, but nothing that hit so hard, and stayed with me so long, as this one.

  39. Barbara says:

    Kerry. If this blog had a “like” button, I would have to “like” your comments. I have also only read CNV once in its entirety. It was from an ARC, which I promptly shared with my YA book discussion group and had since gone MIA. NO ONE claims having it and it has never been returned (first time that had ever happened- I find that quite telling.)
    So based on my somewhat hazy recollection, I second your thoughts. I too, have read some terrific stuff, some on the contendas list, some not. But CNV is in a class by itself.

  40. David says:

    I just finished listening to this on CD. I usually only listen to books while I’m in my car, but when I got to the end of CNV I didn’t want to wait another day to find out how it ended, so I brought the last CD inside and listened to it then. There are few books I would do that with!
    Needless to say, I loved CNV. Yes, it does have some flaws, especially regarding Maddie’s marksmanship, but whatever flaws it has are small in comparison to the way this book draws the reader in, and is full of surprises. Since I listened to the book, I didn’t see which parts of Julie’s story were underlined. I’m not sure it would have made a difference if I had.
    I also agree that VL committed suicide. Many Nazis did so when faced with arrest and execution, most notably the famous General Rommel (the Desert Fox).
    I didn’t think Jamie and Maddie would end up together eventually. The specter of Julie’s death and how she died would also be between them, even if Jamie didn’t hold Maddie accountable for it.
    My biggest regret about this book is that I’m not sure it’s suitable for me to add to my collection in my middle school library (Grades 7-8). I’m curious if any middle school librarians have purchased this book for their collection.
    In any case, I’ll be rooting for this book to win the Prinz in January. It’s also been wonderful to read everyone’s comments. I couldn’t wait to finish the book so I could read this post and all of the comments. In the meantime, I had no one to discuss this fantastic book with, and it gives you so much to talk about!

  41. Allison says:

    I’m late on this discussion, but I just finished, and I am one of the few that was not bowled over by the magnificence of this book. I had issues with it. And though good, I did not think it was the best of the year (I’m routing for Brides of Rollrock, myself). I agree with just about everything Mark said. One thing I found myself wondering–are we supposed to believe that a professional interrogator is not going to figure out that the underlined sentences are a message? And through the first half, I kept wondering, why are you sharing this with your interrogators??? Of course eventually it makes a lot more sense, but then it makes me wonder why her interrogators weren’t suspicious, if I found what she revealed to be odd and contrived.

    And to respond to Karyn’s idea about the gendered component. I’m a woman, and I didn’t like it that much (and I thought it was very flawed). There was a time when I was really interested in reading about the women of World War II and the roles they were able to take on as men became more and more scarce. I think it’s a really interesting topic that has a lot of potential, but this book didn’t do it for me at all. One issue for me which may have contributed to my reaction is that I didn’t really connect to this friendship. I didn’t become very emotionally invested. I’ve tried to figure out why, and I think there are two things that may have contributed. One is Julie’s weird 3rd person narrative. It felt contrived, it created distance, and it was very distracting to me (as were the plausibility issues). It was much easier to become emotionally invested in Maddie’s section, which felt much more personal and real. And I felt like I never got or understood how these girls became so connected. I remember being told that Julie was discovering her best friend, but I don’t know that I was actually shown enough to really feel it.

    And no one has talked about the mercy killing component. I have a hard time believing that everyone just signs off and agrees that “Maddie did the right thing.” Maddie faces no consequences, no opposition, not a single differing viewpoint. And I would think that in the 40s her actions would be far less acceptable. Doing something like that is a big deal, and I was unsatisfied with how little it was explored/dealt with.

  42. MMO says:

    Great post, I believe blog owners should acquire a lot from this website its really user friendly . “My father always told me, ‘Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’” by Jim Fox.

  43. theabee says:

    I have to give a speech about CNV tomorrow! Every time I have rehearsed it, I started crying. This will not be good.

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