July 10th, 2012


Spy Book Hangover

I'm having a book hangover kind of morning, since I stayed up way too late for my current sleeping patterns to finish reading a book and then that book triggered a lot of very intense dreams -- a whole chain of them that had me waking up and realizing it was just a dream, then going back to sleep and falling into a similar dream, over and over again. And then I woke at my usual early summer time, but I did try to let myself get back to sleep again. So I may be foggy today.

The book in question was Code Name: Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and it's a YA WWII spy story. Sort of. The story is told in a kind of manifesto written by one of the main characters, a British agent captured by the Gestapo in France who has broken under torture and agreed to tell them everything. So, this is what she writes, going back to the beginning to tell how she and her best friend both got involved in the war effort and all the events that led to where she is now. That's a really interesting story of a friendship between two girls who might never have met if it weren't for the war -- the titled lady who grew up in a Scottish castle and went to boarding school in Switzerland and the Jewish girl who works as a mechanic in her grandfather's motorcycle shop -- and how they meet when they're radio operators at an RAF base during the Battle of Britain.

But then what you have to keep in mind is that the narrator knows the Gestapo will be reading everything she writes, and that means you don't know exactly how true it is. It isn't until the second part of the book when we get things from the other girl's perspective that we start to see what's really been going on all along. Once I got to that part -- around my bedtime last night -- I couldn't put the book down. I may even have missed some things in my haste to find out what happens. It's the kind of book that you need to re-read once you know the whole story so you can spot the clues along the way, but it is pretty intense and I'm not sure I could bear to re-read the whole story right now.

This was published as YA, but I would definitely say it's adult-friendly because it's not very teenagery at all. The main characters are likely in their late teens at the beginning of the story-within-a-story, but they're in the middle of a war, so there are none of the stereotypical teen fiction tropes. There's no love triangle. There's not even really a hint of romance, unless you're inclined to read really hard between the lines and kind of imagine that two of the characters might end up together in the future. There's zero romantic angst, at any rate (and no vampires). This book is being cited as an example of what they're now calling "new adult" fiction -- for older teens to early 20s. Younger readers generally "read up," preferring to read about characters who are a bit older than they are and maybe in the next stage of life, so the main audience for books about high school is actually middle schoolers. Readers in their late teens are looking for books about the early 20s -- college and first job. Publishers seem to have figured out that since YA is the big moneymaker these days it's kind of silly to push those readers over to adult books where it's hard to narrow down which books are in the range they'd want, so they're publishing those early adult books within YA. I suspect that's how this book ended up in YA even though it could easily fit in adult fiction. I know as a teen I would have eaten this book up with a spoon and likely would have become scarily obsessed with it, reading it over and over again and then trying to write my own spy stories. It kind of is along the lines of some of the stuff I mentally wrote as a pre-teen/teen, except it's actually good and well-researched, unlike mine.

Plus, the author's history is in YA, which may influence the shelving. The book jacket doesn't mention this at all, but I thought her name sounded familiar, so I looked it up, and she is the same Elizabeth Wein that I had a really fun conversation about Star Wars with at the Nebula Awards. She wrote YA fantasy novels, and I guess they're hiding the fantasy past in relaunching her with a non-fantasy World War II book.

In other news, I think I'm going to make a leap of faith and replace my antique AC system. I'm not sure why I've put it off as long as I have. I've got the money, though my worry has been that I'll need that money for stuff like food in the coming years, since I don't know when more money will be coming in (I hope people buy these next two books! Tell all your friends!). Given interest rates, I'll save a lot more in electric costs than I'd earn in interest on that money. I think a lot of it is sheer stubbornness, but I think by now I've proved that the guy who told me ten years ago that this system wouldn't make it through the summer was wrong. It's currently working, but I get the sense it's having to work harder, and my Spidey sense is telling me it's time to do something soon. There's no point in doing major repairs on a 28-year-old air conditioner. And anything I get would have to be quieter than the current system, which would be a plus. Now I just have to deal with figuring out the right company to work with, figuring out what I need/want, figuring out if they're being honest with me, and then dealing with getting the work actually done. Ugh. I probably should have done this in the spring, but the Spidey sense hadn't kicked in yet then. It was yesterday while I was trying to work that all my instincts suddenly fired full-blast with "must replace air conditioner" impulses.