Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

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Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein ISBN: 9781423152194

Plot Summary: Our story opens with a nameless prisoner scribbling on the pages she has been given to confess her story on. It is World War II, and this prisoner is Scottish, mind you, not British, being held by the Gestapo for information on the British war effort. She had been a radio operator when she got a big break: a confused German pilot trying to land his plane on the British base and she was the only person who spoke German! This introduces her to Maddie, a civilian pilot, and begins her journey to become a spy for the British government. Through her confessions, we learn of her friendship with Maddie. Through the torture she is submitted to, we learn of her resilience, but also of just what she did in the war. She knows it is only a matter of time before she is killed, but all she can think of is Maddie’s probable demise in the plane that flew her to Germany.

Critical Evaluation: I could gush endlessly about this book, if I didn’t have several other books to write about. I found the story totally engrossing, fresh, and exquisitely written. Now I’ll tell you why. While epistolary writing is not a new concept, in our narrator’s (who is later to be revealed as Queenie or Julia) hands, we see the joy and humor in friendship, the power that fear has over us, and the innate kindness and cruelty in every person. This narrative mode presents us with a different Queenie every time that she writes. And one of my favorite parts of first person writing is that it is more likely to unreliable, and require a bit of work on the part of the reader, in a way that challenges us. This book definitely challenged me, in the best possible way.

Queenie notices minute details about her torturers, like their tics and when they show sympathy for her. What was most refreshing for me was that this was a detailed portrait of friendship, and not of a first love. What I noticed most about Queenie’s character was her bravery. Even when she is crying, she seems brave. She is infuriatingly so when she taunts those with power, or chides people for mistaking her heritage. But to me, that just makes her a much fuller and richer character. To my memory, each character feels very real as you are reading. Even the prison guards we only see for a chapter are shown struggling with decisions.

Reader’s Annotation: When Julia, a spy for the British government is captured in Nazi territory, she agrees to spill everything she knows. But the story she tells is not so much one of war secrets, but of friendship and ultimate acts of bravery.

Information about the author: Elizabeth Wein was born in New York City in 1964. She attended Yale University, and studied in England for a year. She also has a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

She has now lived in Scotland for over ten years. She and her husband, Tim, have two children. The Lion Hunter was short-listed for the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2008. Code Name Verity was short-listed for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, is a Michael Printz Award Honor Book, a Boston Globe/Horn Book Awards Honor Book, and an SCBWI Golden Kite Honor Book. It is also a New York Times Bestseller in young adult fiction.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Curriculum ties, if any: The most obvious connection to the classroom is the setting in World War II. To my knowledge, it is also a diligently researched account of some of the ways that women were involved in the war effort.

Booktalking Ideas: Most teens can probably identify their best friend, how they met them, and the crazy stories they share. The friendship in this book is timeless. I also think this book would appeal to those interested in war stories, or those interested in women’s history, and of course historical fiction.

Reading Level/Interest Age:  The violence and sophisticated nature of being a prisoner of war will make this book better suited to an older reader. School Library Journal suggests this title for grades 9 and up, and Publisher’s Weekly for ages 14 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • violence

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

This book represents actual things that certainly happened to people during World War II. It is not all pleasant to read about, but as they say, the way to avoid repeating history is to learn about it. I consider the benefits to be gained from this book to far outweigh the unpleasant elements.

Why did you include this book? : It has become one of my favorite books, and is a well-researched account into women’s roles in the past.

Reference Page:

Wein, Elizabeth (2013). Biography. Elizabeth Wein website. Retrieved from http://www.elizabethwein.com/

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

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Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl ISBN: 9780670014385

Plot Summary: Althea lives in a crumbling castle on a cliff—her great grandfather’s idea of an ideal home. But Althea’s family has fallen on hard times, and struggle to keep up with needed repairs, much less with how to eat. Althea’s stepsisters have a large inheritance, but hate to part with any of it. So it is up to Althea to marry a rich gentleman who can provide for her, her mother, and young brother. If only her quick tongue wasn’t always getting in the way! The arrival of handsome Lord Boring seems promising, though he does bring his rude and messy cousin along…What is a beautiful, intelligent girl to do?

Critical Evaluation: This was a very enjoyable book to read. The most fully realized character is Althea, though her friends are also developed a little more. To me, the other characters, like her mother and stepsisters, are kind of one dimensional. Her mother is very sweet but rather helpless it seems. The stepsisters are not very attractive and not very pleasant to be around, reminding me of the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella.

I must also draw a comparison between this and Pride and Prejudice. To be fair, I have not read Pride and Prejudice, but what I know about it is very similar to this story.  The protagonist is beautiful but opinionated, and can’t help but speak her mind. She meets a handsome man and is instantly attracted to him, while she is repulsed by another. Yet, by the end, we find that in fact she’s in love with the man she thought repulsed her and him with her. Even though this is not an original plot, as I’ve said before, it was quite fun to read. Althea is funny, and she does find herself in interesting, humiliating, and amusing situations.

The language was, to my eyes, fairly authentic to the time period. The time period is never explicitly stated, but the language is one of the key ways that I recognized that this was in the past (besides of course the buggies and no electricity). I can’t really speak to women’s rights in the 1800s, but I suspect that some of the thoughts that Althea has are rare for women of her time. I do find them mostly believable given her character, but these lines did stand out to me when I was reading.

Reader’s Annotation: Althea must save her family and her castle. If she can only keep her big mouth closed long enough!

Information about the author:  Patrice Kindl has written several award winning YA books. She was born in in Alplaus, New York in 1951. She attended Webster College in St. Louis, as well as a theater school in New York City. She didn’t start writing until she was in her thirties, and didn’t get published until she was in her forties.

She now lives in upstate New York with her husband and a rotating cast of animals. They have trained monkeys for quadriplegics, and kept hawks, dogs, cats, birds, several kinds of rodents, and once a corn snake. She also has a grown son who now works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Humor

Curriculum ties, if any: If any classes are reading Pride and Prejudice, it would be interesting to juxtapose it with this book.

Booktalking Ideas: I would emphasize the humor in this story. Althea frequently does and says funny things in this story, and her sisters are rather exasperating, which I think many teens could relate to. And depending on the audience, some might appreciate the connections to Jane Austen.

Reading Level/Interest Age: The main character is 17. However, besides her age, and the fact that she is looking to get married, there is nothing that would make this book controversial for younger readers. That said, I think it is a more sophisticated read, appealing to a teen that maybe has already read period fiction from the 1800s, and thus would be better for an older teen.  School Library Journal approves this book for grades 7 and up, and Publishers Weekly for ages 12 and up.

Challenge Issues:  None that I can think of.

Why did you include this book? : It is historical fiction, and was said to be an enjoyable read. It has also been compared to “I capture the castle,” which is one of my favorite books.

Reference Page:

Kindl, Patrice (2013). About me. Retrieved from http://www.patricekindl.com/aboutme.html