Cover image for Walter's purple heart : a novel
Walter's purple heart : a novel
Hyde, Catherine Ryan.
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Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2002]

Physical Description:
317 pages ; 23 cm
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X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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Michael Steeb is young and more than a bit lost, living in a ramshackle life in California with few material possessions, little direction and no real goals, until Walter arrives. As the dead man's past becomes entwined with Michaels' own memories, this spiritual connection transforms his identity and direction.

Author Notes

Catherine Ryan Hyde lives in Cambria, California.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Walter's story begins with his death during World War II, in swampy jungles when a Japanese sniper kills him. But Walter has unfinished business. Almost 40 years later, Walter's spirit contacts Michael Steeb, a young man living in a shack and growing marijuana, and harasses him until Michael agrees to find Andrew Whittakers, Walter's best friend and army buddy, and tell him the truth about how Walter received the Purple Heart. When Michael finds Andrew, he also finds Mary Ann, Walter's fiancee. It seems when Walter died, Andrew came home and stepped in for Walter and married Mary Ann. Through the help of Michael, Mary Ann relives her love affair with Walter, Andrew puts to rest the demons he has been carrying for 40 years, and Walter can finally reveal the truth about his Purple Heart and make peace with the life that was cut short by war. Hyde's previous novels contain an element of the extraordinary, and this one is no different. With humor and thoughtfulness, Hyde crafts a plot unconventional yet comfortably familiar. Carolyn Kubisz.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Though the much-hyped movie version of Pay It Forward sank into box-office doldrums soon after its release, Hyde still soars, turning out another heartwarming if melodramatic tale. In her fourth novel, the eponymous Walter is dead, killed by a Japanese sniper at Guadalcanal in 1942. Forty years later, his spirit comes back and declares, "Nobody in this story is going anywhere without me." By that, he means his high school sweetheart, a wartime buddy, and the very confused California marijuana farmer he chooses as his earthly host. Twenty-one-year-old pot enthusiast Michael Steeb unexpectedly meets Walter's spirit one day while fooling around with a Ouija board. Michael freaks out, and it takes Walter some time to convince Michael that his spirit is real and that Michael must help him unravel a 40-year-old mystery. Michael and Walter finally become friends, and Walter sends Michael to New Mexico to locate his wartime sweetheart, Mary Ann, and his old army buddy, Andrew. They have been married 38 years and each has powerful memories of Walter, but Walter has a few hard questions he wants to ask them. It's a bit disconcerting when Michael, channeling Walter, romances the 60-something Mary Ann, but the power of human emotion in its purest form wins out over physical barriers. Though she doesn't skimp on the schmaltz, Hyde has a sure touch with affairs of the heart. (Apr. 10) Forecast: It's hard to say whether the big-screen fate of Pay It Forward will help or hinder Hyde's latest, but her higher profile will likely attract at least a few extra readers. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Walter died in battle 40 years ago, but never mind; he's back asking down-and-out Michael to track down his war buddy. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Reincarnation is at the core of this story that unfolds through the eyes of four characters. Walter was a soldier in World War II who died during battle and whose spirit is not ready to leave Earth. Andrew is Walter's best friend, and the one who convinced him to enlist in the war. Michael is his reincarnation, who 40 years later at the age of 21 is an aimless pot farmer in California. Finally, there is Mary Ann, Walter's fiance, who married Andrew. One evening, Walter awakens Michael's perception of his former self by communicating with him through a Ouija board and asks for help with some unfinished business that he left behind. If the novel's premise seems complicated in soap-opera-like proportions, it is. Hyde, however, is a masterful storyteller. Thoroughly engrossing, the book does not allow for skipping a single page as she keeps the momentum up by surprising readers with new details about Walter's life throughout the story. They add to the mystery of why the young man's spirit remains earthbound and keep readers guessing about what it will take for him to cross over to the other side. Both sentimental and heartwarming, this novel delivers all the ingredients for a day of leisure reading.-Julie Dasso, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter Three Walter Did you think I was gone? No chance of that. If death was the end of me, this story would be over. Nobody in this story is going anywhere without me. They don't know enough, don't know where to go. I don't mean to insult these people, sounding like I'm the only one who knows anything. I mean, these people are my friends. It's just that, when you're alive...Oh, boy. How do I say this without offending everybody? When you're alive, you don't know squat. It's like being lost in the woods. You don't see the woods, and you don't really know where you are. It's like you just see the trees right around you, and you have no idea what part of the forest it is, or how it fits in with the rest of the forest. If you're walking around trying to get found, you probably don't even know if you've seen these particular trees before. No perspective, you know? No overview. I guess I sound prejudiced against the living, and maybe in some ways I am. When you've done both and you know it, it's hard not to see what's what. I will say this, though. A few living people have some kind of breakthrough knowing. For lack of a better expression. It's like some part of them knows the whole forest, and every now and then they can operate out of that part of themselves. But they can't do it all the time, and they could never explain it to you. So even though it has limited uses, I still have to give credit where credit is due and admit that some living people are knowers. Mary Ann used to be that way. That's why the little incident in the backseat of my dad's Ford just before I shipped out. I didn't see it like that at the time. I wasn't much of a knower myself, back then. But she knew I wasn't coming back. I wonder if she's still got that. I hope so. It'll help a lot, if she does. But it's a funny thing, knowing. It's the first thing to get knocked out of you. Life has a way of finding that part of you and taking it back. I'll tell you who used to be a great knower was Bobby. You won't meet him, because he's dead. Really dead, not stuck like me. He was a buddy of Andrew's and mine on the island. Good guy, Bobby. Not long after we land, he goes off and buys a native hooker for the four of us. Yeah, that was a good example of what I'm talking about. That was a knowing thing, and maybe I saw it that way when it happened, even though I was obviously alive at the time. There were four of us that were real close on the island. The four musketeers, that's what we called ourselves. Me, Andrew, Bobby, and Jay. Anyway, the thing with the hooker. This is where I am right now. I feel guilty calling her that, even though it's what she is, because she looks about sixteen, and I keep imagining that if the Japs and the GIs had never landed, she might've just been a girl like any other -- like your daughter or your sister. Anyway, she isn't. She costs Bobby his gold pinky ring. That pays for all four of us. Nice gesture, only I feel pretty inclined to give it a miss. It's one of those things, though, you have to take into account what your musketeers will say, so I go in for my share. She's lying on Bobby's jacket in the dusk, in the jungle. Wearing nothing more than that ring on her middle finger. She's holding her hand out at arm's length, like to admire the look. I know how many guys have been in to see her already, but she doesn't look like she knows. She looks like she forgot to notice. I'm standing there in front of her, and all she can do is look at the ring. She has this vulnerability about her that I think I'm supposed to find exciting, only it doesn't work on me. Lots of things that are supposed to work on guys don't work on me. I hope I never find out why. It makes me feel sad. But I do it anyway, so I can honestly say I did. It's a present, you know? It's a guy thing. The whole time, she's looking over my shoulder at her outstretched hand. At least she's honest about what's important to her. Anyway, I don't take up too much of her time, so I guess I shouldn't feel too bad. Then, when it's over, I have a laugh to myself, thinking how Andrew calls this Anticlimax Island, except for different reasons. Not that the first time was any great shakes, or lasted much longer, but at least I knew my girl was there because she liked me. Now that I think about it, though, I had to give Mary Ann a ring, too. So, anyway. About the knowing thing. So I go back to Bobby and I say, "Hey, thanks, buddy, that was just the ticket." Pretty much lying. He says, "Well, it's like this, Crow." That's what they call me, Crow. He says, "We're going back to the hill tomorrow, and you just never know." He says, "If we don't get some now, maybe we won't be able to later. And you got to get you some at least once before you die." He says, "Damn shame to have to go to heaven and tell Saint Peter you forgot to live while you had the chance." Well, this kind of gets my attention, because how do you suppose he got it in his head that I never did? So I go back to Andrew, and I say, "What the hell, buddy, did you tell Bobby I was a virgin?" Andrew says, "Hey, we're all in the same boat, it's nothing you need to be ashamed of." Because, you see, I still hadn't gotten around to telling him about Mary Ann. More on that later. That's a whole thing. Don't even get me started on that now. So not two days down the pike we're charging a cave. Three of us guys go running in at a time, in waves, and I trip over something in the dark and go flying. Whatever it is, I figure it must've saved my life, for the moment, because before I can get up and get back into combat, it's all over. Score one for the U.S. of A. Hutch comes in with a big, battery-powered light so we can evacuate our dead and wounded. So then I see what I tripped over. Bobby. Run through with a bayonet. Eyes like glass, staring up at the cave ceiling. Staring at nothing. And my first thought -- call it sick if you will -- is, At least he got laid first. And then my second thought is, How'd he know? Who told him it was time? And then my third thought is that I'm going to throw up and I do. See, the point of that story is that Bobby was a knower. I wonder sometimes if he was always like that, or if it was just because he was so close. When you're that close to the moment you're going to die, it gets to be like a thin curtain between the two things, the living thing and the dying one, and you can see a lot if you try. But Mary Ann is living a long life, and she knew things young. Some people do. Michael, now he presents a challenge. He knows nothing, and he doesn't even mind that. He's not even paying attention. I know I talk about him like he isn't me. And we all know he is. But still. He's going to take some working on. But then, I've got all the time in the world, right? No buses to catch. No pressing engagements. What better have I got to do? Copyright © 2002 by Catherine Ryan Hyde