“It’s like being in love, finding your best friend.” So says Queenie, one of the engaging heroines in Elizabeth Wein’s terrific novel “Code Name Verity.” It’s a little like being in love, reading a gem of a book like this one. Set during World War II, “Verity” tells the story of two best friends, Queenie, a spy, and Maddie, a pilot. Queenie’s been caught in France by the Nazis, and the first part of the narrative is her confession, a twisting tale of friendship and war, a tease and a dance. Really, it’s only when you get to the second half of the book that you understand the incredible complexity of the tale Queenie (and Wein) have woven. Then you’ll race to the end and start it all over again. And if I’m being vague on the plot details, it’s intentional. Loose lips sink ships. They also ruin books.
I’m not a massive fan of historical novels, which sometimes read like mothballs smell. Not this one. “Verity” felt at once authentic—Wein is a pilot so the flying scenes are like…flying—and immediate: Queenie’s and Maddie’s voices pop from page one and I fell for these idiosyncratic, brave, brave girls. Not many books surprise me, fewer yet make me cry, but this one had me gasping out loud and then doing that embarrassing spontaneous sob-erruption thing. When I finished, all I wanted to do was think about it and talk about it, endlessly. Like being in love.