11:30 am EST, January 30, 2018

‘Purple Hearts’ by Michael Grant review: A brutal, yet fitting, end to a first-rate series

Purple Hearts, the gripping and gut-wrenching finale to Michael Grant’s Front Lines series, is a brutal masterpiece that absolutely everyone should read.

About ‘Purple Hearts’ by Michael Grant

New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant unleashes the gritty and powerful conclusion to the Front Line series and evokes the brutal truth of World War II: War is hell. An epic tale of historical reimagining, perfect for fans of Code Name Verity and Salt to the Sea.

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Courage, sacrifice, and fear have lead Rio, Frangie, and Rainy through front-line battles in North Africa and Sicily, and their missions are not over. These soldiers and thousands of Allies must fight their deadliest battle yet—for their country and their lives—as they descend into the freezing water and onto the treacherous sands of Omaha Beach. It is June 6, 1944. D-Day has arrived.

No longer naive recruits, these soldier girls are now Silver Star recipients and battle-hardened. Others look to them for guidance and confidence, but this is a war that will leave sixty million dead. Flesh will turn to charcoal. Piles will be made of torn limbs. The women must find a way to lead while holding on to their own last shreds of belief in humanity.

Purple Hearts (Front Lines #3) by Michael Grant

Related: Front Lines book review: A must-read WWII alternate history

‘Purple Hearts’ book review

With Purple Hearts, it’s honestly really hard to know where to begin. It feels odd for me to say that I loved this book because of how graphic and gut-wrenching it can be. Because of how many times I had to take a break from reading so that I could have a short breather. Because of how many times it made me cry.

But “love” is the best word I have to explain how I feel about this book and the Front Lines series as a whole.

Purple Hearts is a superbly-written and fitting end to Michael Grant’s fantastic alternate history of World War II. Not only does it tackle some of the most well-known events of the war (most notably D-Day), but it also really digs in to the soldiers’ psyches and relationships. While we’ve had two books to get to know all of these characters, their exhaustion and the increasing urgency for the war to end gives us readers even more nuanced insight into each and every one of them.

With all of the things that they’ve seen and done, it comes as no surprise that the soldiers in this novel (both male and female) are all suffering from intense fear and hopelessness. Sometimes they’re able to push those things deep down and ignore them, but it’s the heartbreaking moments when their feelings overtake them that shows us all just how much the war has affected them. This book pushes characters to their breaking points with a handful of them reacting in ways you might not expect.

Really though, when you read about all of the things the women have endured, it’s no surprise that they’re coming apart at the seams. While the first two books of the series were violent and graphic, this one was downright brutal. Men dying in freak tank accidents, body parts being blown off, a drowning man killed by the ramp of a Higgins boat… Grant doesn’t hold anything back here when it comes to depictions of violence, injuries, deaths, or massacres. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get some of the images out of my head, but, knowing that people actually suffered these fates, I don’t think I ever want to.

The beauty of Purple Hearts is in its brutality and the fact that it’s hard to read. But depictions of should be both of those things. War is hell. There’s nothing glamorous or entertaining about it and we should not treat it as such. How many times have the events of World War II been glamorized or romanticized? How many times have we discussed the war in terms of black and white? In my opinion, it feels like Michael Grant is using Purple Hearts to convey just how terrifying and horrific another world war would be for all.

Purple Hearts (Front Lines #3) by Michael Grant

Though it’s set toward the end of World War II, Purple Hearts actually feels really timely and modern. Yes, the depictions and discussions of war evoke questions about what sorts of atrocities we might see in our lifetimes and stokes the fires of fear that some of us have of an impending war, but Purple Hearts feels most timely when tackling issues of race and gender. I mean, the whole premise of this book is that it’s a “what if” story of women serving larger roles in World War II so it was always going to be more forward-thinking, but the characters’ pointed remarks about societal expectations their own personal dreams really hit home.

While all three novels in the series are told from the three main girls’ points of view, Purple Hearts takes this storytelling a step further by introducing the points of view of new characters. We still see the events from Rainy, Rio, and Frangie’s experienced points of view, but we also get to see everything from a totally “green” perspective. The new characters’ views are like a blast from the past because they really remind us how far our soldier girls have come after serving for just two years. Also, not to spoil anything, but these new voices also add even more despair to the mix as well.

And speaking of points of view, the identity of the series’ mysterious narrator is finally revealed toward the end of Purple Hearts and, I have to say, I didn’t guess it at all. And I’m usually the type of person who see reveals and twists coming. There were quite a few clues sprinkled throughout the novel, but I didn’t pick up on any of them and was pleasantly surprised with the reveal.

The only thing I’ve complained about in the past when reading Front Lines and Silver Stars (the first two books in the series) has been the slight lack of balance between the three main girls’ stories. Frangie’s story always felt lesser somehow. I didn’t feel like I knew her as much as I knew the rest. I don’t have the same complaint about Purple Hearts. Not only is it perfectly balanced, but Frangie is the true heart of this book. She endures some of the toughest trials and has the most interesting and emotional personal journey.

I also have no complaints about the way this book wraps up. Sometimes the end of a series can feel rushed or kind of hokey, but that isn’t the case here. Though I’m not quite sure how I feel about some of the time jumps that happen throughout the book (even though I know they were probably necessary), the time jumps and glimpses into the characters futures at the end feel really organic and appropriate. The finale is sweet while also making sure that the reader doesn’t forget what all of these women went through. It’s the perfect goodbye to characters we’ve spent over 1500 pages getting to know and care about.

Grant’s work here on Purple Hearts and with the Front Lines series in general is nothing short of masterful. Even if you haven’t read the other novels in the series (which would be a mistake, by the way), I suggest that everyone read this novel at least once in their life. This novel has changed the way I view not only World War II, but also the Greatest Generation and the consequences of war in general. Purple Hearts is one book that will stick with me forever and I’m grateful for it.

Purple Hearts by Michael Grant is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local independent bookstore. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!

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