Written by Iraq war veteran Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds is a poignant, realistic story of the complex dynamics of life on the battlefield. The book was critically acclaimed, winning many awards, including the 2013 Hemingway Foundation Award. Kevin Powers served as a machine gunner in Iraq after enlisting in the army at age 17. After the army, he went on to receive his Bachelor's Degree in English, and began working on The Yellow Birds, which would be his debut novel. It is semi-autographical, drawing on his personal experiences serving in the war.
The book follows protagonist Private John Bartle through a range of backdrops: fighting in Al Tafar, Iraq, then life in Fort Fix, New Jersey, and multiple other locations. After his enlistment, John meets fellow private Murph, and makes a promise to Murph's mother that he will not let her son die.
The novel focuses on the psychological toll of war on a soldier. John is extremely emotionally affected by the life-threatening exploits he takes part in. As Powers said, "I wanted to show the whole picture. It's not just: you get off the plane, you're back home, everything's fine. Maybe the physical danger ends, but soldiers are still deeply at risk of being injured in a different way. I thought it was important to acknowledge that."