Monday, February 06, 2017

Teen crossover book: Adults, take note!

There are works of historical fiction for teens that rise to the top of teen fiction in general, and are wildly popular with teens, as well as being wonderful reading fare for adults. One of my past favorites that is also a frequent teen pick is The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, in which the Devil is the narrator of a story about an orphan girl and the family who take her in, in the midst of World War II mayhem. I recently read another that may supersede that book on my greatest hits list, though, and not just for teenagers; teen librarian Anarda read the book when it first came out, and has been nagging, er, encouraging me to read it ever since. I finally got around to reading Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein.

The book starts out a little confusingly. It's about two young women in World War II England, mostly before America has entered the war. One of the women is a spy; the other one is a pilot. Together, they make a great team. But the team has been split up; one of them has fallen into Nazi custody, and is being tortured to write down every detail she can dredge up about the British War Effort. She decides to write it down not from her own point of view but from that of her friend's. It took me a while to get comfortable with the way the narrative has been switched around, but once I did, I was riveted.

I can say almost nothing about this book without giving away significant details that you should be allowed to discover on your own. I will say that the first half of the book is heart-breaking, but by the time you get to the twist in the middle, you are no longer reading the story, you are living it. I am not an emotional reader, but this book made me weep, both with sorrow and with joy. This story may be among the best historical fiction I have read.

Honestly, I don't understand why Code Name Verity was marketed and sold as a Young Adult title. Will some teens love this book? Absolutely--to the level of The Book Thief and beyond. Is it a teen book? Not in the least, as far as I am concerned. At least in The Book Thief there is a young protagonist that might justify that work being marketed to teens; that is not the case here. All the characters (except for a few extremely peripheral ones who are mentioned once in passing) are definitely adults, albeit young (early to mid 20s). I find myself saddened by the undoubted fact that Code Name Verity has been marginalized from finding its full audience by being marketed solely to teens, because this book deserves to be widely read.

So...adults out there--recommend this to your teens who like historical fiction, and then read it yourselves...and give it to your mother and your friends and to strangers on the bus!

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