Elizabeth Wein on Friendship in Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein writes about the importance of friendship as a theme in her debut book Code Name Verity set in World War II.
One of the things that my first readers loved about Code Name Verity was how truthfully it describes the magic of having a best friend. When people ask me to describe the book I tell them it’s a ‘World War II spies ’n’ pilots thriller’, but when they ask me what it’s about, I always answer, ‘Friendship.’
The heroines of Code Name Verity have very different backgrounds and characters — Maddie is from working class Stockport, her friend ‘Verity’ is a Scottish aristocrat; Maddie becomes a pilot, Verity a spy. But they’re soulmates. My previous heroes have all been loners who are always a little surprised when another character shares their interests, or tries to clown around with them. Code Name Verity isn’t about loners. It’s about two people who both make friends easily. Maddie gets along pretty well with most people, and Verity is a charmer. When at last they’re thrown together in a crisis situation their personalities simply click, and after that they are inseparable — a sensational team. They’re not just friends, they are best friends. The plot begins as their friendship starts, and takes you up to and beyond the moment when it’s put to the ultimate test.
More than anything else I’ve ever written, this book is packed with action and adventure — yet it’s friendship that drives the plot. The fact that these girls work well together gets them noticed, and causes people in authority to use their combined talents in unusual ways. Friendship stirs the action in Code Name Verity more than patriotism or duty. When the aircraft Maddie is flying with Verity as a passenger is hit by enemy fire, Maddie confesses she ‘would never have had the presence of mind to put that fire out if I hadn’t been trying to save her life.’ Meanwhile, ‘Her best friend, untangling herself in the back of the plane, shivered with dread and love. She knew that Maddie would land her safely or die trying.’
This friendship is also hugely healing. Verity writes her story as a prisoner of the Gestapo, expecting that any moment she may be dragged off for execution; it’s the memory of her good times with Maddie that inspires her to keep going. She tells Maddie’s story in loving detail: ‘I like writing about Maddie. I like remembering. I like constructing it, focusing, crafting the story, pulling together the memories.’ Throughout ‘Verity’s’ imprisonment, this project gives her hope and purpose.
I like to think this devotion is what gives the book its life—it lifts it beyond the frustratingly dry label ‘historical fiction’. Code Name Verity might be set in the past, but Maddie and Verity’s friendship is fresh and timeless.
I’ve been racking my brains trying to think of older YA books that focus on friendship, and I feel sure there must be some out there that I’ve missed! I mean, how can we not have great fictional female prototypes who are best friends — not rivals, not partners, but just ordinary best friends? There are great fictional lovers, heroes, families, even gangs — but what about best friends? Karen Healey has been hosting a similar discussion about the lack of close female friendships in TV and movies on her blog, it’s also come up in discussion on my own blog. There are quite a few suggestions in the comments, but I think we still need MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS.
Code Name Verity is dedicated to my friend Amanda, who battled at my side for seven years while we both got our PhDs at the University of Pennsylvania. Last year, Amanda was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy, which she had to battle on her own. Right now she’s in the bizarre and painful process of reconstruction — but she’s cured. It seems hugely appropriate to ‘give’ Amanda this story of friendship and survival.
Verity herself sums up the essence of her friendship with Maddie several times over, and surely speaks for many devoted friends when she says it: ‘We make a sensational team.’