Thursday, August 27, 2009

Purple Heart, by Patricia McCormick

It's impossible for a civilian to really understand what it's like to fight in a war, but we need to try to put ourselves in the shoes of young soldiers. Policy-makers declare war and set strategy based on global politics, but these decisions affect the lives of ordinary young people. Stories we read can help us understand what soldiers go through. I will always remember reading Heart of Darkness and watching Apocalypse Now in high school. Young adults want to read about lives far away from their own. Purple Heart, by Patricia McCormick, is a new novel that explores the impact the Iraqi War has on a young American soldier. I highly recommend it for middle school students.
Purple Heart
by Patricia McCormick
NY: Harper Collins, 2009
ages 12 and up
When Private Matt Duffy wakes up in an army hospital in Iraq, he's honored with a Purple Heart - the army's medal for those wounded in battle. But he doesn't feel like a hero. He can't quite remember what happened in the Baghdad alley where he was hurt. Matt has suffered a traumatic brain injury and must slowly work to recover his memory and his ability to function. He wants to get back to his squad in the field. The first half of the book is not action packed, but pulls you into a soldier's struggles. The second half of the book follows Matt as he returns to his squad to patrol the streets of Baghdad.

I was pulled into this story by Matt's likable character and how McCormick reveals his thoughts about his squad. While Matt recovered in the hospital, he thought about his squad a lot. One time, Wolf (a buddy) got a care package with Silly String in it and "the whole squad ran around the barracks, hiding and ambushing one another." What really struck me was Matt's thoughts about his buddies:
As he (Matt) watched Wolf squirt Silly String down the back of Figueroa's shirt, he remembered thinking, This is what war is all about. It wasn't about fighting the enemy. It wasn't about politics or oil or even about terrorists. It was about your buddies; it was about fighting for the guy next to you. And knowing he was fighting for you. (p. 53 ARC)
This novel clearly shows that war is not full of easy answers, that soldiers struggle with their conscience and each person has to decide how they're going to deal with it. It would be a great novel to read with your middle school children - either as a read aloud, or each of you reading it.

Publisher's Weekly gives Purple Heart a starred review: "McCormick raises moral questions without judgment and will have readers examining not only this conflict but the nature of heroism and war."

Would you like to read some of Purple Heart? Harper Collins, the publisher, has put the first 40 pages on their web site - go take a look!

This review copy was provided by Harper Collins in ARC form (Advance Readers Copy). Purple Heart goes on sale on September 1st. Order your copy now from your local independent bookstore or Amazon.

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