Casualties of War

Two recently published novels, Back Home by Julia Keller and Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick, both tell the stories of soldiers who suffer traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq. These and many other novels are powerful reminders of the fact that the wounds of war take many forms. Scars and missing limbs are visible, but there are many types of wounds unseen–emotional, psychological, and the internal organic traumas like brain injuries. These stories are also important reminders that both civilians and soldiers are casualties of war, including the families who must cope with the damaged loved ones who return from the battlefields.

  • Back HomeKeller, Julia. Back Home. Egmont, 2009. 978-160684-005-4 
  • Thirteen-year-old Rachel struggles with depression, grief, and anger when her father returns home from his National Guard deployment in Iraq missing an arm and leg, and suffering from traumatic brain injury. Keller poignantly depicts the frustrations and grief of Rachel’s family as they struggle to cope with their tragic loss.


  1. Day of the PelicanPaterson, Katherine. The Day of the Pelican. Clarion, 2009.
  2. This finely crafted novel chronicles the harrowing experiences of a Muslim Albanian family as they desperately flee genocide in the Kosovo civil war of the 1990s. Told from the perspective of eleven-year-old Meli, Paterson vividly depicts the terrifying, danger-filled ordeal of a refugee family who eventually find safe haven in the United States.


Johnny Got His Gun

  1. Trumbo, Dalton. Johnny Got His Gun. Bantam, 1984.
  2. Originally published by J.B. Lippincott in 1939, I first read Trumbo’s searing indictment of war in high school. Joe Bonham, a young soldier serving in World War I, awakens in a hospital bed and gradually realizes he has lost his arms, legs, and face, but still has a perfectly functioning mind leaving him a prisoner in his own body. After unsuccessfully attempting suicide, Joe eventually finds a way to communicate. Seventy years later, this grim story has lost none of its power.


  1. Purple HeartMcCormick, Patricia. Purple Heart. Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins, 2009. 978-0-06-173090-0
  2. Eighteen-year-old Private Matt Duffy is recuperating from a traumatic brain injury in a hospital in Iraq when he receives his Purple Heart. With his memories foggy on the circumstances that led to this honor, Matt tries to sort through the contradictions of the event. Full of memorable characters and psychological tension, McCormick’s gripping, tragic story offers a penetrating look at the hypocrisies and lies that are endemic to war. She challenges readers to reflect on their own beliefs about duty, honor, and loyalty.
  • Refresh, RefreshNovgorodoff, Danica. Refresh, Refresh. First Second/Roaring Brook, 2009. 978-1-59643-522-3
  • In this disturbing graphic novel, Cody, Josh, and Gordon are three young men in the Pacific Northwest struggling to deal with the wartime absences of their fathers while also coping with their own adolescent angst. Their anguish and frustrations frequently manifests into violence with the boy fighting one another to “make each other tougher.” This dark, psychologically intense story is a powerful reminder that casualties of war can include the emotionally wounded who never see the battlefield.  
  1. Soldier's HeartPaulsen, Gary. Soldier’s Heart. Delacorte, 1998.
  2. Based upon the real-life experiences of a Civil War soldier, Paulsen tells the story of fifteen-year-old Charley Goddard who lies about his age in order to enlist with the First Minnesota Volunteers. Seeing action in major battles like Bull Run and Gettysburg, Charley is physically and psychologically wounded. Dying at the young age of twenty-three in 1868, Charley lived an erratic and unsettled life after the war, suffering from “soldier’s heart.” What was described as “soldier’s heart” later came to be known as shell shock, battle fatigue, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Paulsen’s raw, lucid narrative vividly conveys the brutality and horror of war. This novel is a great choice for readers not ready or unwilling to read Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage.
Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 2:25 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. An informative and inspiring list, thank you. I will return often to your site as I prepare for a panel presentation (Children, War, Refugees and Books) at the Tucson Book Festival in March, an annual event created by Kathy Short. Nancy Bo Flood

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