Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

Purple Heart is a fictionalized book written by Patricia McCormick for  youth over 13 years of age.  It is a gripping account about 18-year-old “boy soldiers” being sent to fight the war in Iraq.  As McCormick commented, “It isn’t a pro-war book or an anti-war book.”   “It’s my attempt to portray how three children — two 18-year-old Americans and a 10-year-old Iraqi boy — have been affected by the war.”   McCormick has written a convincing account about how brutal life is in the war zone, for both soldiers and civilians.  It is a heartbreaking story about how everyone suffers in war.  Purple Heart is a well-researched novel.  It was named by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of 2009.  This is a great discussion book for the classroom.

Private Matt Duffy wakes up in an Army hospital with a doctor poking his feet with pins.   He doesn’t understand why he’s there.  He has difficulty moving and his speech is garbled.   He is told he has suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).  Another officer soon appears and presents him with a Purple Heart.  But, Matt doesn’t know why, and he doesn’t want the medal.  Matt wants to know what has happened to him.  He’s instructed that his job is to recover from his battle wounds.

In the following weeks, sleep brings Matt little peace.  He is haunted by the sight of a little Iraqi boy standing at the end of an alley filled with debris.  It’s always the same flashback of a strange series of events happening in slow motion.  He sees a stray dog, hears the loud call to prayer by a muezzin,  and sees an overturned car in the street.  Suddenly there is a silent flash of light and the young boy is lifted off his feet into the air.  There is a loud explosion next to Matt.

Matt’s buddy Justin, visits frequently.   Justin tells him what he remembers of the attack.  Justin saved Matt’s life that day.  Over time, Matt begins to remember more and feels Justin is holding back.  He knows something went very wrong that day.  They were in the wrong place.  They hadn’t followed orders.  Matt somehow feels responsible for the boy’s death, but he doesn’t know why.

After lengthy rehabilitation and a criminal investigation into the death of a civilian, Matt returns to his squadron.  He’s glad to be back.  There is always the dust and sand to contend with and the searing heat.  But, there is also the uncertainty of living on the edge.  There is the possibility of an ambush around every corner, and  Matt is fearful he won’t be able to pull the trigger when the time comes.  The events of that day still live in him and he wonders if he’ll ever know the truth.

McCormick isn’t afraid to tackle tough and complex issues.  Visit McCormick’s website to view her other award-winning books, Sold, My Brother’s Keeper and Cut.

Note:  Although Matt doesn’t die in this story, other soldiers do.  There are support organizations available for families who have lost loved ones to war,  Tragedy Assistance for Survivors Program (TAPS).   Military Families United honor the fallen, support those who fight, and serve military families.  The  U.S. Army has a program, Finding Strength and Hope Together,  for soldiers/veterans at risk and dealing with PTSD.  There is the  National Veterans Wellness Center in Angel Fire, NM, that helps rehabilitate veterans with PTSD. And, there is a Veterans Crisis Line where veterans can call 24 hours a day for support.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved