Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
In this book, two teen girls in England in 1943 become a spy and a pilot. After crash-landing in occupied France, they are separated and Julie, “Verity,” is captured and tortured by the Nazis. Her friend Maddie has to try to save her while hiding among the underground French resistance organization. The story of their friendship, told through the writing they each scribble on scraps while huddled in small, dingy spaces, is elegiac and vivid. Julie’s torture scenes are a grueling chess match between her and her interrogator. The physical and psychological aspects of Julie’s torture are harrowing and sometimes hard to read. The chess match is ultimately impossible for her to win, but she still comes off as such a bad ass. Despite pain and deprivation, she’s clever enough to pass bogus information that furthers her mission indirectly. There’s no triumphant happy ending, but it’s satisfying nevertheless. This might also be one of the most subtly feminist books I’ve read in a while, since it’s about two young women doing difficult jobs not many women did, and the strong bond between them, with not much importance placed on romance or on male characters.