I am pleased to welcome you all to my blog for my portion of the Nerds Heart YA tournament!  Today Katie from Read What You Know and I are deciding between Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick and In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith.

Warning:  This post is a bit on the long side.  It contains two reviews with our final decision at the end.  Enjoy!

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick is told from the point of view of Matt Duffy, an eighteen-year-old Army private currently serving in Iraq, and when the story begins he finds himself in a military hospital with a brain injury.  Although Matt is awarded a Purple Heart for his bravery in the situation that landed him in the hospital, he doesn’t feel so brave.  His last memory from the day of the injury is watching a young Iraqi boy with whom he had gotten close, Ali, get shot and killed.  He can’t figure out what exactly happened to Ali, but he feels that somehow he was involved in his death.  Matt recovers enough to be sent back into combat with his squad, and it is then, surrounded by his best friends, when he starts to put the pieces back together of what exactly happened the day he was injured and little Ali was killed.

Purple Heart really, really got to me emotionally.  I have a personal connection to the book because my younger brother Alex is currently serving our country in the U.S. Marine Corps, and I kept picturing him in Matt’s situation.  Although my brother has yet to be deployed, it will probably come soon, and as he’s about Matt’s age, I just couldn’t help thinking of Matt as my little brother.  So I definitely connected with the book on a personal level.

Besides my own emotional connection to the novel, I thought it was really well done overall.  It is a pretty short book, but grabs the reader immediately, drawing you into Matt’s world as he tries to untangle the web of secrets surrounding what happened to him and Ali.  McCormick doesn’t waste a single word as her sparse prose fits the tone of the novel exactly.  And while Matt is really the only main character in the book for the first half, once he got back with his squad I really enjoyed getting to know them and I loved reading about how their relationships were – they were a super close-knit group simply because of the situation they were in together.  They were one another’s family, friends, everything.  Their relationships, their camaraderie, the love they had for each other – it all felt very real to me.

While I was kept in suspense about the truth of what happened to Ali throughout the book, I never felt like it was a “suspense” type of read.  For me it was more of a character-driven novel, about how war can and does affect people, especially the eighteen-year-old kids who make up the majority of our military.  I thought the book was expertly well done in that it truly opened my eyes to what it must feel like to go through actually having to fight in Iraq.  And, of course, like I said earlier, I was personally impacted by the story in a big way.  While I guessed some of the ending, ultimately McCormick did manage to surprise me and the ending was about as satisfying as can be, although of course it was very emotional.

In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith begins with Jonah and his younger brother Simon attempting to flee their home after their father went to prison and mother abandoned them.  Pretty early into their journey, they decide to hitchhike and take a ride from Mitch, who they quickly learn is a sociopath, and his pregnant friend Lilly.  As they drive more and more, the boys experience Mitch committing murders, threatening all of their lives, and generally acting completely insane.  Their ride with Lilly and Mitch is interspersed with Jonah’s reading of letters he’s received from his brother serving in the Vietnam War, with both stories coming to a shocking climax at the end of the book.

I didn’t know what to expect with this one.  Based on the book jacket’s description, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it much, but I was wrong.  This book is an absolute thrill ride that did not let me out of its grasp for one second.  It was literally a train wreck – horrible things just kept happening, and as much as I wanted to look away, I was fascinated by it, absolutely glued to the pages.  I kept thinking that eventually something would go right for Jonah and Simon, and honestly – things just kept going from bad to worse.

I definitely liked the characters in this book (well, the good guys – Jonah and Simon especially), and I felt that they were written very well.  I absolutely believed Mitch to be a sociopath – he was about as psychotic as they come while still being able to function in the real world.  I felt deeply sorry for Lilly, as she had actually chosen to spend her time with Mitch, and he was clearly obsessed with her (although they weren’t together), and she had nowhere to go if this trip with Mitch didn’t work out the way she’d planned.  I did feel that the characters were all a bit one-dimensional, although Simon was the most fully realized, in my opinion.  He made some terrible decisions, but like any kid, he had to learn for himself who to trust and what to do in these terrifying situations.  He grew up over the course of the novel and I enjoyed seeing him do so.

The juxtaposition of Jonah and Simon’s current story with Jonah’s reading of his brother’s letters from Vietnam felt very authentic to me, and helped make the story more than just a thriller.  I really felt for his brother – trapped in this horrific war that he was morally opposed to, forced to fight and kill people, with no feasible way out.  He was incredibly depressed and it was clear that he loved Jonah and Simon very much and wanted so badly to see them again.

The ending was somewhat expected, but overall a shocker in the execution of it all.  I was totally along for the ride throughout the entire book and was happy to see some kind of resolution in the end, even though it certainly wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. 😉

In terms of which book will move on to the next round, I personally could have gone either way.  I connected emotionally to Purple Heart and I think McCormick tells a very important story, but I was more entertained by In the Path of Falling Objects.  Ultimately I was really won over by my personal ties to Purple Heart as well as the important message that McCormick offers.  As Katie was learning very strongly toward Purple Heart, together we came to the decision that Purple Heart will be moving on. Yay! 🙂