Purple Heart

Book review by
Debra Bogart, Common Sense Media
Purple Heart Book Poster Image
Powerful, heartbreaking tale of young soldiers in Iraq.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
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... Continue reading
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 activ... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byCutetomboy February 25, 2013

Purple Heart

This is a great book its about matt duff who get wounded in iraq
Teen, 13 years old Written bymcreno September 15, 2010

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?

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