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When Private Matt Duffy wakes up in an army hospital in Iraq, he's honored with a Purple Heart. But he doesn't feel like a hero.
There's a memory that haunts him: an image of a young Iraqi boy as a bullet hits his chest. Matt can't shake the feeling that he was somehow involved in his death. But because of a head injury he sustained just moments after the boy was shot, Matt can't quite put all the pieces together.
Eventually Matt is sent back into combat with his squad—Justin, Wolf, and Charlene—the soldiers who have become his family during his time in Iraq. He just wants to go back to being the soldier he once was. But he sees potential threats everywhere and lives in fear of not being able to pull the trigger when the time comes. In combat there is no black-and-white, and Matt soon discovers that the notion of who is guilty is very complicated indeed.
National Book Award Finalist Patricia McCormick has written a visceral and compelling portrait of life in a war zone, where loyalty is valued above all, and death is terrifyingly commonplace.
Justin came right back at him. “That’s what your girlfriend and I were doing last night!” They’d goofed around most of the day—playing cards, catching up on their sleep, and writing home—since Bravo Company was handling street patrols while their group got a little break during the cease-fire. No one had really talked too much about Matt getting hurt, and he wondered if they even knew what happened in the alley. Or did they know about what Matt had done and just decided not to talk about it?
That, to Matt, seemed like the biggest sign of progress—that people were going about their daily lives without looking or even caring about the presence of American soldiers. He was lagging well behind Charlene, though, and rather than focus on the sights and smells of the market, Matt found he had to work to keep her in view, not an easy task given that she was shorter than most of the people in the market. He spotted her a few stalls away and tried to pick up his pace. He tripped, though, and
nearly went down on his knee. Quickly, he looked around to see if anyone had noticed, then jogged a little to catch up to Charlene. A scrum of kids ran by, and Matt drew back instinctively. He saw Ali everywhere, in every kid on the street. He heard his voice every time one of the kids yelled, and he found himself flinching every time he heard the soft pock of someone kicking a soccer ball. He stopped to catch his breath and decided to watch the kids for a minute; he couldn’t avoid looking at
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his helmet. His mom sent us Silly String.” She nodded, her expression unreadable. Matt went on, anxious to show her how much he could remember. “Sergeant McNally. He’s from Pittsburgh. He’s a…you know, when you stand on a ladder…” He kneaded his brow with the tips of his fingers. His head was throbbing and he couldn’t think of the word. He looked at Meaghan Finnerty for help. “Does he use a hammer or a paintbrush?” she asked. “A hammer, ma’am. He makes things. Like shelves.” The word was just