Purple Heart



Powerful, heartbreaking tale of young soldiers in Iraq.

What parents need to know

Educational value

As historical fiction, this story takes place in real-time, so there isn't a lot of historical background given.

Positive messages

This is a pretty straightforward story about war. There are no easy answers given. A chaplain states that serving in the Iraq war can make you question God.  Can they help a people they can't trust, and who don't trust them? Matt questions everything. In the end, he seems to reconcile his cynicism and keep his heart open to humanity.

Positive role models

Matt is an exemplary soldier and friend. After a head injury he is sent back into combat; his loyalty to his fellow soldiers never wavers. After seeing children killed, he wants to protect them. But most of all, he has to choose between saving his friends, and saving himself.


Intense, war-time violence. Eighteen-year-old Matt wakes up after being wounded in Iraq. He dreams of a child he had befriended being blown up. He has vivid memories while trying to heal of other soldiers and civilians killed. He returns to battle, sees friends killed, and must kill or be killed. Some soldiers seem to relish the battle, while others will do anything to protect their buddies.


Soldiers have some posters of celebrities such as Britney Spears. They are referred to as "hot."


"Badass," "s--t," "f--king," and "hell" are used sparingly.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this is a very, very realistic look into a war going on right now, with intense violence. These soldiers are very young; they can only trust their commanders and hope to survive. They admit how scary it is; but also how primal, and how being on patrol, in night goggles and carrying guns, makes them feel like Superman. The story opens with a young soldier waking up in a hospital in the Green Zone, wondering what happened, and questioning his own role in the death of an Iraqi boy he had befriended. His narrative, his questioning, his fear, and his love for squad mates that have become his family make the life of a battlefield soldier real for those who will probably never have first-hand experience. There are intense descriptions of attacks and the experience of facing death or pulling a trigger and killing others.

What's the story?

Eighteen-year-old Private Matt Duffy wakes up in an Army hospital in Iraq where he is awarded the Purple Heart less than 24 hours after suffering a traumatic head injury. The injury keeps him from remembering what happened, but he seems to remember seeing the young Iraqi boy named Ali being blown to bits. If Matt was responsible for Ali's death, he could face prison time ... As part of the mission to help the Iraqi people, Matt and his squad had befriended Ali. Some of his squad said you couldn't trust any of the Iraqi people. Others agonized over the desire to help the Iraqis, but being told to kill them as needed. After Matt heals, he still feels great guilt over Ali's death. Cleared of responsibility for civilian deaths, Matt returns to his squad determined to protect Justin, Wolf, and Charlene, who have become his best friends. Too soon he watches more friends die, and the next mission he goes on leads to a life-and-death decision: can he pull the trigger to save his last remaining buddy?

Is it any good?


This is historical war writing at its best. The point of view widens and widens as Matt wakes up with a head injury and slowly remembers and heals until he is sent back into combat. His squadron buddies include Charlene, who believes you can't trust the enemy for a minute, not even the children, and Wolf, who can't quite accept the mandate to kill if necessary. The intense fear, the homesickness, the desire of these idealistic young soldiers to serve and protect both their American troops and the Iraqi people they have been sent to help are vivid and immediate. The writing is spare and eloquent; devastating and lovingly rendered all at once. This is not a tribute to war; it is a tribute to soldiers, particularly those on the frontlines, and the juxtaposition of Ali's story makes this unforgettable.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the origins of the Iraqi war; the goals, and the history.

  • Families can also talk about their own values and beliefs about war, and this war in particular.

  • Why did President Obama receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and what role did the Iraq War play in that award, if any?

  • How is this depiction of the Iraqi war similar than what you've seen on the news and in other accounts, ficitonal or not? How is it similar?

Book details

Author:Patricia McCormick
Genre:Contemporary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Balzer + Bray
Publication date:September 1, 2009
Number of pages:208
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Read aloud:14
Read alone:14

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 13 years old Written bymcreno September 15, 2010
What other families should know
Educational value
Parent of a 10 and 13 year old Written byJeffriesboys December 8, 2010

Not appropriate for teens under about 16 or 17.

My son checked this book out because of the title. From the title, I surmised it was a book of honor, courage and heros. Full disclosure, my husband is an active duty soldier. The "f" word appears within the first 10 pages. I was surprised that the reviewer doesn't have a problem with the fact that the soldier in the bed beside Matt in Baghdad offers him cigarettes in exchange for some of his medicine - percoset, etc. There are several ethics issues that this book raises - for example, the Colonel investigating the incident suggests that he (Matt) isn't a reliable witness because of his TBI and therefore "gave" him the official story. My main issue with the book is that the author has an agenda - she has participated in protests with the Veterans against The Iraq War. In my personal opinion,the issues raised in this book require a pretty sophisticated world view to assess the ethical issues raised. Esspecially if your tween/teen is a military child, some of the issues raised need to be approached carefully.
What other families should know
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent Written byI'mWithDenny March 12, 2013

15 F-Words is hardly "Sparing use of Profanity"

This is a well written story.. for the R-Rated over 17 crowd. It has graphic violence, body bags, blood, and child victims--including a car bomb exploding in a crowded marketplace with 3 little kids in the back. If a movie had 2 F-words it would be R.. this has 15 and about 40 other uses of profanity. The author throws in one other word that if Googled would provide pages of pornographic references, and this book was offered to my 12 year old 7th grader for Language Arts class. The review was helpful to me in calling it to the attention of the school principal, but when I read it myself, I was disappointed at how mild the review was when classifying the #!--Books should be held to the same standards as movies, music and video games, since reading profanities and obscenities is as harmful as hearing them. The author also portrays underage characters drinking alcohol in a war zone, which is in violation of General Article 1--and against the law. If the book was a video game, it would be rated M for Mature as the violence is realistic and extreme (death is extreme, right?) as well as persistant (the death of the 10 year old orphan is replayed throughout the book). There is also recreational trading of prescription painkillers by one of the soldiers who accidentally killed his sergeant. This book is not for children.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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