When I decided to start talking about my collections here, that I wanted to start with one that, is indeed small, but holds such a huge place in my heart. So with that, lets dive into my Code Name Verity collection.
As I mentioned in my Librarian of Auschwitz review, I have been passionate about educating myself about World War II and the Holocaust ever since I was a child. Because of this, I often find myself searching the YA Holocaust & WWII Novels Listopia on Goodreads. This is where I first stumbled upon Code Name Verity by: Elizabeth Wein, in 2012. I placed this book, and many others, on my “to be read” list, and went about my life for two years. In 2014, when I was researching what books had won the Printz award for the year, as I do every year, I saw a familiar face. Code Name Verity had won the Printz Honor. This solidified my desire to read it, and within the week, it was in my hands.
I’ll admit: I was super nervous going into this book. In my research of the reviews of the book, something I always do before reading, I found that one of the main issues people had with the novel, was the extensive use of pilot’s jargon and terminology. As someone who has zero experience or knowledge about planes or flying, this was concerning. Was I going to be able to understand this book? Would all the technical knowledge that I couldn’t decipher take me out of the story? I was wary.
I was a fool.
Yes this book did contain a lot of pilot specific information, Elizabeth Wein is an avid flyer and makes her love of it quite known in this book, but she made the information a soft foreground for the plot and characters to stand on, rather than a direct feature. If that makes sense? Ultimately, the pilot-y stuff doesn’t detract from the novel at all. In fact, by the end of it, you’ll find yourself actually recognizing terms and such. Which is always cool.
How do I begin to discuss this story, or these characters, and what they mean to me? I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise any of it will hold water.
This story will destroy you. It will. Accept it now. There will be moments where you think everything isn’t so terrible, and heartbreaking, and cruel. Moments where you think you will escape this novel unscathed. This is a trap. The way that this narrative is told, is so intricate, and brilliant. You will find yourself laughing, and smiling along with these beautiful girls on one page, and then your heart will be collapsing as the brutal reality of the situation hits you on the next page. Even in the bright moments, the darkness is lurking in the back of your mind. It’s always there. And isn’t that just so appropriate for a novel set in this time period?
You’re going to love these characters. Again, just accept it. Maddie is such a bright, and delightfully strong, and fierce, and kind, and just, wonderful girl. You’ll find yourself cheering her on, no matter what she plans on doing, simply because you want to see her succeed. Watching her grow throughout this novel is such a joy. Her hard work and determination is so inspiring. She’s the precious cinnamon roll you want to give the entire world to.
Julie. How can I possibly even begin to explain my love for Julie? Well, let’s start with this: I’m naming my daughter after her. Hand to God, I swear it. She is, without a doubt, my favorite character in anything, ever. She’s just such a dynamic character. She’s beautiful, funny, overconfident, sassy, vain, kind, witty, determined, selfish, and so f*cking brave and strong. She’s everything. She absolutely breaks my heart throughout this whole novel with everything that she does, and is. My love for her knows absolutely no bounds. She will make you fall in love with her, whether you want to or not, and she will wreck your soul. It’s awful. It’s the best.
Needless to say, Code Name Verity is this genre, and this topic, at its very best. It is the very first WWII/Holocaust recommendation I give, which is really saying something considering The Book Thief is my second favorite novel of all time. This book is hard, emotionally, but that’s what makes it so good, and so important. It’s going to stick with you. You’re not going to easily forget Maddie and Julie, or their story. They’re going to leave a mark on your heart. Mine hurts as I’m writing this. My eyes are itching to release tears. It’s been 4 years since I read this. That says something.
Rose Under Fire isn’t a sequel really, more of a companion novel, though it does have some characters from Verity, and does take place after. While Verity dealt more with the broader WWII topics (bombings, air raids, espionage, etc.), Rose Under Fire is a purely Holocaust novel.
Now, when you’ve been reading about this topic for as long as I have, as terrible as it sounds, they can all start to blend together. Again, I know that’s a terrible thing to imagine, but it’s unfortunately true. So many of the stories coming out of these camps are so similar. After all, the intent of the Nazis was to make this brutality as uniform and “efficient” as possible. As hard as you try to keep each individual, horrific experience separate from the rest, as a means to respect the victims and survivors, sometimes they just get mixed up. So then the challenge becomes: what makes this different? What new thing can I learn or take away from this narrative that sets it apart from the countless other stories of absolute cruelty and devastation? I ask myself this question every time I close a Holocaust novel. The answer after I closed Rose? Ravensbrück.
While this novel may be fictional, many of the moving parts of it are horrifyingly real. Ravensbrück is real. The Rabbits, 74 Polish women that were forced to undergo cruel and brutal medical experiments at the hands of Nazi doctors, are real. The 130,000 women who passed through those gates to be beaten, starved, worked to death, poisoned, executed and gassed, are real. Their stories are real. But unfortunately, for most of history, this knowledge, and these stories, have been forgotten. The destruction of the camp by the Nazis, and of the evidence of the evil that transpired there, was so efficient, that these voices have been rendered almost completely silent, and so easily overlooked. Even I, with all my fascination and interest in studying WWII and the Holocaust, almost overlooked them as well. I’d never heard anything about Ravensbrück or the Rabbits. Until Elizabeth Wein and Rose Under Fire. That, is what I’ve taken away from this novel.
I read this book, and it stuck with me. I read every word, on every page, and was captivated. I clung to every single one of those women’s stories and made a promise to remember them all. I rifled through all of Elizabeth’s author’s notes, and references, and resources that lay in the back of the book. I took note of all the documentaries, memoirs, and novels that she recommended for further study on the subject. I even picked up a non-fiction book (a rarity for me) about the camp, and the women who inhabited it: Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women by: Sarah Helm. I’m still making my way through the book, as it’s quite mammoth, but I’m determined to finish it. I want to be one of the helping hands in raising these voices up. I want these stories to be heard, and be remembered. And all this, started with me picking up a Rose Under Fire. This is what makes this book so powerful, and why I’m as passionate about it as I am.
And lastly, we have The Pearl Thief. Again, this is not a sequel. It’s actually a prequel which, after reading Code Name Verity, is horribly cruel. Even though nothing terribly sad happens in this novel, I was a hysterical wreck all through it. My heart was breaking with every single word. If you read the series, you will understand. And I do recommend reading them in publication order, for that very reason. The pain is good. Don’t shy away from it.
The Pearl Thief follows a slice of Julie’s life before the start of WWII. We get to see her beautiful family home in Scotland, her family, and just, herself. Regular, pre-war-hardened Julie. We see her struggle with her society’s and family’s expectations of her, her own expectations of herself, her doubts about her future, her doubts about her sexuality, her mistakes, her triumphs, everything. Everything that made us fall in love with her in Verity, just magnified. And there’s a wonderful mystery woven into it, as well as a self-discovery story, and even a little bit of a love story. It’s so many things, and all of them are fantastic.
It’s short, and sweet, and it will leave you sobbing. You’ll curse the day you ever heard Elizabeth Wein’s name, and you’ll love every minute of it.
This series is so precious to me. It has affected and changed me so much, and I’ll forever be grateful for it.
With all that being said, I haven’t really discussed the actual collection. So I’m gonna do that now. I currently only own the US versions, which I hope to remedy soon. I have each copy in hardcover, and own the ARC. I have the paperbacks for Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, but am still waiting for The Pearl Thief to be released in paperback. Like I said wayyyyy up there at the beginning, this collection is still small, and has a lot of growing to do. But it’s still one that is so, so, so important to me, and I’m glad I got to share it with y’all.