To survive in their hostile environment, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined.
The book’s incredible emotional authenticity, reviewers have noted, can be largely hinged to the debut author Kevin Powers’ past as machine-gunner who joined the US Army at age 17 and served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005.
Writing in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani notes, “The Yellow Birds is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined bildungsroman about a soldier's coming of age, a harrowing story about the friendship of two young men trying to stay alive on the battlefield in Iraq, and a philosophical parable about the loss of innocence and the uses of memory.”
Kirkus Reviews hails it as “a novel about the poetry and the pity of war...Powers writes with a rawness that brings the sights and smells as well as the trauma and decay of war home to the reader.”