Want personalized picks that fit your family?
Set preferences to see our top age-appropriate picks for your kids.
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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.
Talk to your kids 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?
For kids who love great reads
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.