Private Matt Duffy isn’t old enough to legally drink, but he’s old enough to fight in Iraq. When he wakes up in an army hospital in the Green Zone with a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and little memory of how he was injured, he’s given a Purple Heart medal. As Matt struggles to get better so he can rejoin his squad, he keeps having flashes of an Iraqi boy he befriended that he might have killed in the incident that took him out of commission.
There are two sections to this novel – in the first, Matt is mostly in a haze, protected in the cocoon of calm that is the Green Zone. In the second, Matt rejoins his squad and we see him and his buddies in action – a false bravado covering up stark terror.
The writing is tight and revealing without ever being sensational. I especially liked this passage – a conversation about the death of Matt’s squad leader:
“Benson died fighting for our country,” Justin finally said. “He died for us. I don’t care how it went down, he died a beautiful death.”
“If I’m going to die,” Wolf said, “I want to be doing something important, something where they can say ‘he died doing something for somebody else,’ not in a plane crash or in, like, some drunk-driving accident.”
“The other two nodded. “You know what Johnny Rambo says, boys,” Justin said. “Live for nothing or die for something.”
Matt had never really understood that line. (…) The whole squad quoted Rambo all the time and that was another thing that seemed weird to Matt: how when things in Iraq got confusing or deep, that the person they turned to was a fake action hero from the ‘80s. (p. 150-151)
The novel illustrates very clearly how complex the war in Iraq really is. For example, it might seem to some that there is no harm in a soldier befriending locals. But military policy forbids it for a very good reason - one that’s actually quite major to the plot, so I won’t spoil it here. Suffice to say, I definitely teared up more than once while reading this one.
PURPLE HEART is available now in hardcover. Find out more about it on the author’s website.