This is the third in a series of five posts reviewing the nominees for the 2013 Best Young Adult Novel Edgar Allan Poe Award, the winner of which will be announced on 2nd May 2013.
Set during World War Two, Code Name Verity tells the story of two young women, Maddie, a working-class pilot from Manchester, and Queenie, a Scottish aristocrat turned wireless operator. Thrown together by circumstance, the two girls forge a strong friendship which is tested to its limits when one of them is captured by the Gestapo in France.
How on Earth did Code Name Verity ever get nominated for a mystery award? Over the course of the last couple of months, Code Name Verity has been nominated for numerous awards and made it onto just about every best young adult book list for 2012. I don’t have a problem with that. What I can’t understand is it being nominated for the Best YA Novel Edgar award because, well, to put it simply, IT’S NOT A MYSTERY!!!
According to Elizabeth Wein’s afterward to the book, Code Name Verity started life as a portrait of a female Air Transport Auxiliary pilot in WW2 and built from there. It’s a work of historical fiction and Wein did her best to make it as historically accurate (or at least plausible) as possible. That's the thing I liked most about this book. It takes historical facts and turns them into a story that's a lot more accessible than a boring History textbook. Yet, nowhere have I found any suggestion on the part of Wein that she ever intended Code Name Verity to be a mystery.
By definition, a mystery is a book with a puzzle (usually a crime) at its heart, with the emphasis being on finding a logical solution to that puzzle. Although, as in just about every book ever written, there are things that are not initially revealed by the narrator, discovering those secrets is not the point of this book. It is a story of friendship; it’s about how Maddie and Queenie became what they are and the adventures they have together after they meet; and it’s about the lengths they go to because of their friendship. Given the fact that Code Name Verity had been nominated for a mystery award, I looked very hard for any elements that could even vaguely class is as a mystery, but try as I might, I couldn’t find them because they’re just not there.
Code Name Verity has been incredibly well received by critics and readers alike, and I imagine it will be set for study by high school History and English teachers for many years to come. Nevertheless, just because a book has been critically acclaimed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it should automatically be nominated for every award there is. Regardless of how good Code Name Verity is, it seems completely wrong for it to even be considered for a mystery award. There are dozens of awards out there for fiction in general, but only a handful, such as the Edgars, dedicated specifically to mysteries. If a non-mystery can potentially win an Edgar award, then why bother having the Edgars at all?
Verdict: A thoroughly researched historical novel that has touched the hearts of many, but definitely not a mystery by any definition.