The Enigma Game: Code Name Verity, Book 4

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Enigma Game: Code Name Verity, Book 4 Book Poster Image
Harrowing, uplifting tale of planes, outsiders vs. Nazis

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Rich, well-researched detail about day-to-day life in Scotland during World War II, from bombing raids to ration cards to bad weather. Classical music  is a strong theme, especially the work of Felix Mendelssohn, which was banned by the Nazis because he was Jewish. Also a mention of James Joyce's much-banned Ulysses, which a character is gleefully proud of owning, and The Odyssey, which figures in the spy intrigue. Much detail about British military aircraft and aviation. Also code-breaking, details about the Enigma machine, many phrases in German, Jamaican patois, and Scottish dialects, and some detail about daily life as a kid in Jamaica. A character from the segregated U.S. South is shocked that Louisa, who's Black, is allowed in the pub, and his commander tells him they don't have laws like that in Scotland, deal with it.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of overcoming prejudice, taking people on their merits, and overcoming differences to work  together for a common goal against a common enemy.  Also courage, camaraderie, friendship, creative thinking, and the conviction that rules matter, but were also made to be broken when they stand in the way of your getting something done.

Positive Role Models

The three narrators -- Louisa, Ellen, and Jamie -- all come from very different worlds and grapple with different problems and fears, but face them with courage. Music and the memory of her loving parents help sustain Louisa, and Ellen's scrappy courage, pure tenacity, and determined friendship are an inspiration. Jamie, meanwhile, is 19 and dealing with leading a squad of airmen in constant deadly peril. Even somewhat villainous characters, such as the racist young Texan airman who makes Louisa's life miserable but is also heroic in battle, are nuanced and complex. All of them are intriguing, and often supply good advice or life lessons along the way.

Violence

The Enigma Game isn't as dark as Code Name Verity, but it's wartime and there's plenty of suffering and death to go around. Characters to whom you get quite attached die, sometimes horribly in battle or otherwise. Battle scenes with death, destruction, and carnage. A character kills a Nazi by leaving the gas on. Main character Louisa has lost both parents in the war before the story begins. As the story progresses there's mortal danger and devastating grief on a regular basis.

Sex

Female characters are often dealing with (and fending off) the attentions of eager young airmen, apparently successfully. There are romantic undercurrents and hints of past relationships among characters who appeared in Code Name Verity and The Pearl Thief. Two young airmen are a couple, which everyone seems to quietly acknowledge, as when a woman tells another they are "safe as houses" as far as harassment goes. 

Language

A fateful "sod this" at a critical moment. In a shocking drunken barroom brawl, the young airmen sling insults including "Yid," "pansy," and "sheep-shagger" at one another. Occasional "rat-arsed," "Goddamn," and "bastard."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots and lots of drinking by lots of teen airmen who may not live another day. One gets so drunk he can't stand, let alone fly, causing trouble. Much of the story takes place in a pub. Cigarette smoking by adults and teens. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Enigma Game is a thrilling,complex, nuanced, and ultimately uplifting story of various characters, mostly teens and mostly "outsiders" of one type or another, who find themselves thrown together in an all-out effort to stop the Nazis in the early days of World War II. Some of its characters have appeared previously in Code Name Verity and The Pearl Thief, but the story works well on its own, and its central character, 15-year-old, biracial, Jamaican-born, and newly orphaned Louisa, is an inspiration as she tries to make her way, do the right thing, and use her love of music, her fascination with flying, and her considerable brain to help the war effort and support her friends. Many of the characters are on the receiving end of prejudice. For example, Ellen, who's a Traveller but currently blending in due to her RAF uniform, wonders how Louisa manages to deal with being visibly different from the locals, including a small boy who screams because he's never seen a Black person before and thinks she must be a German. Much of the story takes place in and around a pub in a remote Scottish village that's home to an air base. There's much smoking and drinking by adult and teen airmen, many of whom don't return, and in one shocking, drunken scene they start beating each other up and slinging words like "Yid!" and "Sheep-shagger!" Characters are complex and capable of surprises. Throughout, there is risk, danger, death, and heroism. Also harrowing loss, enduring friendship, love, and creative thinking.

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What's the story?

In Jamaica, the Adair family never quite fit the rules, as a Black merchant seaman and a White music teacher fell in love, got married, and made a happy, music-loving family with their daughter, Louisa. Eventually they fled civil unrest there and moved to London, where the Battle of Britain soon unfolded. As THE ENIGMA GAME opens, it's 1940, and Louisa, now 15, has lost both parents to the war within weeks of each other. Grief-stricken but determined to make her way--and, if possible, strike back against the Nazis who killed her parents--she takes a job in a remote Scottish village,  as the caregiver for 82-year-old Jane, the widow of an Englishman but now an "enemy alien" because she was born in Germany. The village is home to an RAF base, and no sooner have Louisa and Jane settled in than a German plane lands, piloted by a music-loving Luftwaffe officer in the Resistance, who soon departs but leaves behind an Enigma machine and its codes. Louisa finds it concealed in a fireplace, and, along with her newfound friends, races to put it to work to help the war effort--specifically, 19-year-old Jamie Beaufort-Stuart's battered, casualty-plagued squadron.

 

Is it any good?

In what may be her best book yet, Elizabeth Wein delivers a thrilling, nuanced tale of "outsider" characters thrown together in a desperate fight to outwit Nazis. Fifteen-year-old, Jamaican-born Louisa grabs you from the first page with her voice, her determination, her love for music and her problem-solving skills. The Enigma Game puts her in a wild, perilous adventure of code-breaking and helping the RAF. Aided by a cast of characters from an 82-year-old ex-opera singer to a defecting Luftwaffe pilot--all of whom rethink a lot of stereotypes along the way. 

"Shaness [a Traveller curse word], nothing's to be expected!" exclaims 19-year-old Ellen. "I didn't expect Louisa to talk so posh! We didn't expect the Luftwaffe to fly in waving white flags! No one expected we'd win the Battle of Britain! If everybody went on doing what people expected, I'd be selling pins and willow baskets door to door instead of hauling this lot about between their battles! And you, Miss Morag Torrie, you'd be looking down your neb at me for being a Traveller lass, instead of mooning over my ATS driver's badge and wishing you were old enough to join up! Everybody shoves their sixpences into that bar [before taking off on a mission] expecting to come back for another drink and look at how many of them never come back!"

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Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about World War II, how it affected people's lives, and the stories that came out of it. What were your family's experiences, and how do they compare with those described in The Enigma Game?

  • One of the underlying themes in The Enigma Game is that there's a lot of unsuspected talent and depth of character where you wouldn't expect it if you believed the stereotypes about other people. Do you see examples of this in your own life?

  • If a Luftwaffe officer loves Mendelssohn and speaks fondly of seeing Jesse Owens win in the 1936 Olympics, why do you think he might not be a Nazi?

Book details

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For kids who love history and books about World War II

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