Looking back at the many new children's books I read in 2012, there were several gems, but the one I enjoyed most was Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This young adult historical novel tells the compelling story of a friendship between two young women during World War II. At the start of the novel, the narrator has been captured by the Nazis in occupied France. Engaging with her captors, she begins to write the story of how she came to be there – a story which is also that of her friend, Maddie, a female pilot. As the story unfolds, the truth becomes less and less clear. Is she collaborating with the Nazis, or misleading them? Does she have a mission, or is she there by accident? What happened to her friend?
This book has been a big crossover hit. Like many young adult novels these days, more adults may be reading it than teens. However, it is a perfect book for teens. With the continuing popularity of vampires and dystopian fantasies, sometimes the highest quality books get lost in the shuffle. While the phrase “historical fiction” isn't a hook for most teens, this is a novel that is both compelling and well-written. Needing to know what's really going on carries the reader forward but with beautiful writing, especially in the descriptions of emotion and the voices of the characters makes this book more than simply driven by mystery and plot. One of its strongest elements is the relationship at its center. Nearly every book I read for teens in the last year had romance as one of the central themes or plots, whether it was romance amid a battle between good and evil or romance amid a contemporary coming of age. There is some mild romance in Code Name Verity, but the friendship in this story makes it stand out and makes it an antidote to the obsession with romantic relationships that pervades most young adult books.
Highly recommended, ages 12+
Farrar Williams is a longtime devourer of children's literature and a former brick and mortar schoolteacher. She homeschools her twin sons in Washington, DC and blogs at I Capture the Rowhouse.