Nerds Heart YA: Purple Heart vs. In the Path of Falling Objects

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! 🙂


21 thoughts on “Nerds Heart YA: Purple Heart vs. In the Path of Falling Objects”

  1. Purple Heart sounds really interesting. I went to a talk yesterday about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and post-traumatic stress disorder, and one of the things they said was hard for a lot of soldiers was if they had been in situations where they were unable to save Iraqi nationals, women and kids, from being killed. I think I need to read Purple Heart now!

    1. That’s interesting. I can’t imagine being in that situation – being forced to fight and not being able to save the innocent. Definitely read Purple Heart – I think you’ll enjoy it!

  2. My son Marc read both of these and he loved them both! I am always looking for engaging and well written YA books that appeal to boys and both of these did just that for him.

    1. I’m so glad to hear he liked them too! I agree that these are perfect books for both boys and girls to enjoy. Great YA for boys isn’t always easy to come by!

    1. It definitely was a tough decision! But I’m so happy that we liked them both and that’s what made it so difficult, rather than disliking them both!!

  3. I’m amazed at how much literature has been based on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan….it has become a part of our culture now, as opposed to a small blip on our historical radar. It’s infected our conciousness. And I’m glad authors are writing about it….it’s important for us to know these things!

    1. Definitely, it’s a huge part of our culture. and of course, I agree that it’s so important for us to understand as much as we can about these wars. I think when war is fictionalized (if done well) it can help put a real person on those abstract soldiers we hear about in the news – like in Purple Heart.

  4. […] nerds heart ya: results! June 23, 2010 Posted by readwhatyouknow in community. Tags: nerds heart ya trackback So very excited to have this bracket’s result for Nerds Heart YA today. Heather from Book Addiction and I judged these together, emailing back and forth until we both wound up on the same side. (It wasn’t too hard though — we came to a decision pretty quickly!) You can go read Heather’s post and reviews right here. […]

  5. I’m really excited to read this new novel from Patricia McCormickso yay for it moving on, but I knew nothing about In the Path of Falling Objects and a sociopath thriller type story sounds soooooo appealing.

  6. Purple Heart sounds like a compelling read. I’ve never read a novel about war that focuses on someone so young. I’m adding it to my list. Great review.

  7. […] Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick – I was lucky enough to be a judge for the Nerds Heart YA tournament this year and Purple Heart is one of the two books myself and my partner, Katie, had to choose between.  It is about an eighteen-year-old Army Private serving in Iraq, and it conjured up so many emotions for me because my youngest brother, at the tender age of seventeen, signed up to join the Marine Corps and is now an active member of our military.  But even if you don’t have a personal connection to the military, I suggest reading this book because it is just so heartbreaking and beautiful.  McCormick is a fabulous writer who really shows her talent in this novel, and Matt (the main character) shines with her writing. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s