Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Release Date: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Rated: YA 14+
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
Buy: AmazonThe Book Depository
Goodreads Website

When soldiers arrive at 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.

Based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, this is an achingly raw and powerful novel about a child of war who becomes a man of peace, from National Book Award finalist Patricia McCormick.

I’m ashamed to say this: I’ve lived in Asia for most of my life and not once have I ever learned about the Khmer Rouge. It’s sad that not many people actually know what happened in Cambodia, and I think in general, the history that I’ve learned in school tends to be more one-sided, as I barely know anything about Asian history, even studying in international schools in South East Asia. Never Fall Down was an enlightening experience for me, as it revealed the horrors that took place and the childhood experiences of Arn Chorn-Pond, a very well known human rights activist, during the Pol Pot Regime.

I love how much the writing is reflected onto what would be the basic English-speaking capability of Arn during his childhood in Cambodia. The writing was simple yet so impactful whilst reading. To see this through the eyes of a child, and all the horrors of the events, just makes it all the more distressing that this actually took place. The author really took the time to make sure that she got the basis of his story, and it really does show throughout the novel. It’s also interesting because it shows the inability of Arn to express himself, confining him to what he can relay back to the reader as a child, while he deals with the deaths and the emotional trauma surrounding the regime. It makes it all the more scarier to see how people resort to cannibalism in extreme cases, turning against each other, and doing what they can to survive, as it gives a broader overview of the events as well.
I liked how there was particular focus on how Arn did survive, through playing music. The lengths Arn had to take in order to survive, learning to play an instrument he had no experience with and gaining more confidence day by day, still shocks me. The fact that a lot of these details are true makes it all the more surreal, making this an amazing and profound survival story, one that people need to hear.

I started this book and couldn’t stop reading until I’d reached the end. Never Fall Down was a heart-pounding read, a gruesome and realistic portrayal of how a country turned on itself, and how one boy found a glimmer of hope surrounded by death and destruction. Patricia McCormick’s writing hits hard and true, illustrating the horrors and traumatic experience of war. Moving and fierce, Never Fall Down is one not to miss.

If you like this, try...

  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys Goodreads
  • Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong ● Goodreads
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak ● Goodreads 

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