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Never Fall Down: A Novel Paperback – December 23, 2013
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“While never shying from the ugliness and brutality of this genocide, McCormick crafts a powerful tribute to the human spirit.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Powerfully, hauntingly unforgettable.” (Booklist (starred review))
“This compelling chronicle deserves to be widely read, discussed, and reflected upon by a generation of young people who may be largely unaware of this dark chapter in world history.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review))
“A gripping account of the inner turmoil of a child soldier.” (New York Times Book Review)
“McCormick’s novel is one that needs to be read.” (The Horn Book)
“One of the most inspiring and powerful books I’ve ever read. Never Fall Down can teach us all about finding the courage to speak our truth and change the world.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
“Following the pattern of excellence McCormick began with her novel SOLD, she has created another amazing story through skilled and patient research.” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) (starred review))
“Arn Chorn Pond is a fast-talking dynamo with endless energy and zest for life. In Never Fall Down, Patricia McCormick captures brilliantly the man, his heart, and his passion to make Cambodia and our world a better place for all. Arn’s against-all-odds survival story and McCormick’s crisp prose gripped me from the first page to the very end.” (Loung Ung, bestelling author of First They Killed My Father, and Lucky Child)
Praise for PURPLE HEART: “In this suspenseful psychological thriller…McCormick raises moral questions without judgment and will have readers examining not only this conflict but the nature of heroism and war.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
Praise for PURPLE HEART: “McCormick builds the plot subtly and carefully with rich, spare prose.” (Kirkus Reviews)
Praise for PURPLE HEART: “Gripping details of existence in a war zone bring this to life.” (ALA Booklist)
From the Back Cover
When soldiers arrive in his hometown in Cambodia, Arn is just a kid, dancing to rock 'n' roll, hustling for spare change, and selling ice cream with his brother. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever. Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children, weak from hunger, malaria, or sheer exhaustion, dying before his eyes. He sees prisoners marched to a nearby mango grove, never to return. And he learns to be invisible to the sadistic Khmer Rouge who can give or take away life on a whim.
One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn's never played a note in his life, but he volunteers. In order to survive, he must quickly master the strange revolutionary songs the soldiers demand—and steal food to keep the other kids alive. This decision will save his life—but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated from the Khmer Rouge, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier. He lives by the simple credo: "Over and over I tell myself one thing: Never fall down."
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Top customer reviews
The book is listed as a young adult book. I wondered at this because of the horror of the subject matter. But then, we should be teaching our teens about the horrors of our times with the hopes that they don't repeat themselves. We can hope, can't we?
The book is based on the actual experience of this young Cambodian man. The inspiring part is that ...yes, he survived, and has dedicated his life to both telling his story and involving himself in saving causes for Cambodia and humanity
And as was the case with Sold, this is a young adult book with some adult themes, in this case, violence, death, murder, and other atrocities. At times the descriptions get quite graphic. Adding to the effect is McCormick's decision to tell it as Arn himself would after he has learned but not mastered all the nuances of English. The contrast of this young, naive voice in broken English and the brutality it witnesses is stark, adding to the effect. Example:
"We walk three day. One long line of kid, all in black, one black snake with five hundred eye. Very tire, my leg heavy like boulder, my mind think only of the next step, then one more step, just walking, no thinking, no caring. Some kid die on the way. They die walking. Some kid cry for their parent or say they tire, they hungry. They get shot or maybe stab with the bayonet. Now we don't even look. We only walk."
In its way, Don't Fall Down reminded me of Elie Wiesel's Night, where we start with a healthy, happy boy, and end with a shadow, physically and mentally. It would make a perfect companion read, in fact. It is short, easy to read, and wise in its straightforward style of narration. McCormick lets the horror speak for itself. And, as was the case with the young Wiesel in 1943 Hungary, Arn faces choiceless choices in his bid to survive, to someday reunite with his family. He uses considerable guile around adults and learns how to make himself valuable through his musical ability. Still, Death is at his elbow most every page of the book, and the motives of various Khmer Rouge soldiers are always suspect, lending the book a sustained sense of horror and suspense.
As you might expect, happy endings are hard to come by for people who go through such trauma. Arn is no exception. Author McCormick spent countless hours interviewing not only Chorn-Pond but surviving family members, his American adoptive family members, and even former members of the Khmer Rouge he interacted with. Many of these people now live in a northern enclave of Cambodia, and McCormick and Chorn-Pond flew together to meet the most important one for what must have been a memorable reunion and interview to make this book as accurate as possible.
"I asked Arn difficult, probing questions about his actions," McCormick writes in the Author's Note, " -- the heroic and the horrific. I verified, as much as possible, the truth of his story. Then I wrote his story as a novel. Like all survivors, Arn can recall certain experiences in chilling detail; others he can tell only in vague generalities... So I added to his recollections with my own research -- and my own imagination -- to fill in the missing pieces. The truth, I believe, is right there between the lines."
It's a sobering truth, too -- one that once again reminds us there are no depths to which man is incapable of sinking.