Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2009
A psychological thriller about a teenage American soldier who believes he may have been responsible for the death of a 10-year old Iraqi boy.
Praise for Purple Heart:
"“Timely and provocative … a nuanced exploration of war, heroism, and morality.”"
— Publishers Weekly starred review
“A thrilling, expertly layered mystery.”
– The Horn Book
“At first readers will feel nearly as disoriented as Matt as he pieces together what happened, but his clarity slowly returns, and both Matt and readers are filled with unease and a sinking dread…”
“Patricia McCormick reminds us that the war in Iraq is not only about terrorists killing and being killed. The war is also about civilians who may be as deadly as insurgents, or who might be as innocent as they look. This book teaches us, young and old alike, how complicated war is.”
“Gripping details of existence in a war zone bring this to life.”
— ALA Booklist
Letter from a reader:
"I loved SOLD, but Purple Heart touched me the most.
Matt’s story was my grandson’s story. I am the grandmother who lost her grandson to suicide. My grandson was just 20 yrs old, and unprepared for the horrors of being a gunner. He was ordered one day to shoot an 11-yr-old boy and his father when they stepped into the green zone. He knew both the father and son as he interacted with them frequently. They did not have explosives. After shooting them, he jumped out of the Humvee and held the child in his arms because he didn’t want the child to die alone without someone’s arms holding him. It tore Greg a part because he had an 11-yr-old brother at home.
There were many instances like these. He suffered terrible PTSD. He returned home in Oct. 2009 from Bagdad after a year-long tour. On Thanksgiving 2009 he took his own life. He couldn’t live with his demons. But, his soul left in service as he donated his organs so that others could live."
– A Grandmother
Inspiration for Purple Heart
Combat boots, each tagged with the name of a soldier who'd died in Iraq or Afghanistan
A few years ago, I had the privilege of working on an unusual peace demonstration—one that united Vietnam veterans with recent veterans from the war in Iraq and old-fashioned peaceniks. These unlikely groups were brought together by the Quaker organization American Friends Service Committee.
As a group, we arranged more than 3,600 pairs of combat boots, each one tagged with the name of a soldier who’d died in Iraq or Afghanistan, in a display that was meant to symbolize the real human cost of the war.
Nearby, we laid out a pile of civilian shoes to symbolize the uncounted men, women, and children who’d died in Iraq. One pair of shoes caught my eye. It was a pair of sneakers, just the right size for a ten-year-old boy. I instantly saw that boy being shot in the chest, his small body flung into the air from the force of the blast. As much as I tried to forget such a horrific image, I couldn’t. And so I spent the next few years imagining how such a thing could happen.
Purple Heart is a fictionalized look at that death, and how two young American soldiers may or may not have been involved in it. It isn’t an antiwar 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.
It’s estimated that more than 1.3 million civilians have died in Iraq. Because this war has been fought in cities, in and among families, civilian fatalities have become the “signature” of this conflict─causing profound moral conflict for soldiers and profound losses for those families.
I finished this book with as many questions as I had when I started. I came away with a deepened respect for our soldiers, a better appreciation of life in a war zone, and a strengthened commitment to peace. My hope is that you, as readers, have done the same.
Check out this website for information about soldiers and veterans.
Explore this website if you're interested in the work of the American Friends Service Committee whose peace rally inspired this novel.
The following website sponsored by the Watson Institute of Brown University provides information about the human costs of war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, including civilians killed and wounded
This video describes the inspiration for Purple Heart, with gripping visuals.
HC: How did you research the novel?
McCormick: I’d hoped to travel to Iraq, but my family vetoed that idea, so I read every book I could, watched every documentary I could, visited a VA hospital, and interviewed military families and soldiers. Eventually, though, I had to set the research aside and let the story flow from my imagination. When the book was finished I asked a soldier who’d just returned from Iraq to fact-check the manuscript. He paid me the highest compliment when he said, “I don’t know how you did it, but you made the characters sound like me and my buddies.”