Matt wakes up in a hospital bed in Iraq. He remembers being on patrol, and he remembers an explosion, but he is blurry about what befell Ali, an orphaned Iraqi boy who had befriended him. In the hospital he can’t remember what day of the week it is, forgets words like “trash,” and gets headaches that are a “bolt of pain.” The medical staff tell him he has TBI (a Traumatic Brain Injury). Usually mild cases get better on their own, and he’ll be back with his patrol in a few days. Matt struggles to remember what happened, but at the same time is terrified to recall, in case he remembers the unthinkable – that he purposely shot a child.
Purple Heart is marketed and classified as a teen book as Matt is only eighteen and enlisted straight from high school. His hometown girlfriend writes him letters about school football games and pop quizzes. She even says she is “sooo scared” of a bio pop quiz. This highlights the divergence of their experiences and the disconnect between Matt’s old life and his new life. Purple Heart is not a comfortable book and asks profound questions about war, as one of Matt’s buddies says, “We came over here to help these people and instead we’re killing them.” And Matt thinks, “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.”
Patricia McCormick says, “It isn’t an anti-war book. It isn’t a pro-war book. It’s an attempt to portray how three children ─ two eighteen-year-old Americans and a ten-year-old Iraqi boy ─ have been affected by war.”
Purple Heart asks (perhaps unanswerable) questions about the morality of war and how it changes people. I recommend it for readers of other Young Adult books about war, such as Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers.
Check the WRL catalog for Purple Heart.