Recent Reading: CODE NAME VERITY

Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it. But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places, and events which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, There! That’s the truth!

We all recognize that quote, don’t we? Of course that’s from Ursula K. Le Guin’s famous introduction to THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. I don’t actually remember TLHoD very well (I read it a long time ago), but I remember this essay about writing and truth. Of course CODE NAME VERITY is based on events that were a lot more literally true than Le Guin had in mind, since it’s historical rather than fantasy. Still, it’s fiction, of course. But still true. It’s all about truth.

What’s strange about the whole thing is that although it’s riddled with nonsense, altogether it’s true — Julie’s told our story, mine and hers, our friendship, so truthfully. It is us.

CODE NAME VERITY is all about truth. And courage, and the fight against evil, and seizing victory from the teeth of defeat. But the heart of the story is the friendship between Maddie and Julie.

As the story opened, I had many guesses about what exactly was going on. It even seemed possible that Julie was telling the truth, perhaps not the whole truth, but pretty much nothing but the truth. I probably would confess to anything, if I were being tortured. (Maybe not. It’s hard to know about courage and resilience and cleverness until you’re there.)

Anyway: essentially all my guesses were wrong. But, well, I will just say that Julie is certainly not short of courage and resilience and, most of all, cleverness.

This is Maddie’s story, really. Or, not really. This is Julie’s story, but buried in Maddie’s point of view and wrapped in a tissue of lies.

This book is brilliantly constructed. Every detail is perfect — literarily, I mean, but probably literally, too, judging from the author’s note at the end. The writing is vivid, but thankfully we are spared elaborate, detailed descriptions of Gestapo interrogation methods. This would be safe to give to a kid to read. In fact, it should be given to kids to read, in this era when WWII seems like ancient history.

If I taught literature or history, either one, I would assign this. As it is, all I can do is say: everyone should read this. I suggest you buy it in paper. You will want to flip back and forth through the early scenes as soon as you hit the back half of the story. And, if you are like me, you will want to look at it there on your shelves.

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4 thoughts on “Recent Reading: CODE NAME VERITY”

  1. Just popping in, much after the fact, to say that I’m really glad you did like this one! (Having pushed it pretty hard, I do feel a certainly worry/responsibility.) And I love the Le Guin quote. Yes, so perfect for this book, especially Julie’s part.

    Now I want to go back and re-read bits and cry, but I don’t have time

  2. Everyone was pushing it! And with good reason. Now I want to read ROSE UNDER FIRE — but I don’t have time for that!

  3. ROSE is unconnected enough (won’t spoil what the connections are) that I think you’ll be fine waiting until you have time. It’s more a companion book than a sequel, although certain characters from VERITY are featured.

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