Friday, May 25, 2012

The Unreliable Narrator

Elizabeth Wein
If you and your teen, like me, enjoy an unreliable narrator--one who sees things that he or she does not share with us as readers, or maybe does not see things that we do as readers--then you will not be able to put down Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Right away, we know that Verity is smart, savvy and resourceful. And brave, despite the fact that she begins by telling us, “I am a coward.” We also have the distinct feeling that she has the upper hand, at least intellectually, even though she’s being held prisoner by the Nazis and forced to write a confession of her knowledge of Allied codes, landing strips and the like.

This is a hard book to talk about with someone who has not read it because the greatest pleasures of the book come with its many surprises. So let me just say that the joys of the book come through in the details of Verity’s friendship with her closest comrade, Maddie, who served as the pilot when their plane was shot down over France. Recollections of their friendship serve as the framework for Verity’s written confession. As I read about them, I felt as if I were taking refuge in an air raid shelter, where Verity and Maddie first formed their friendship, biking with them as Maddie attempted to teach Verity how to gain a sense of direction, and visiting Verity’s home in a castle with its Lost Boys (orphaned by the war).

It is an all-consuming book. One that makes you simultaneously want to start it over from the beginning so you can see how Wein paved the way for her many revelations, and also to hand it to a friend and tell him or her to read it quickly, so you can talk about it. It’s a great book for you and your teen to be reading at the same time.

But make sure you check in with each other to see what page you’re on, so you don’t give anything away too soon.

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