Book Review: Never Fall Down

Never Fall Down 
Published By: Balzer & Bray
Publication Date: May 8, 2012
Page Count: 224
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fiction

I went through a gauntlet of emotions while reading this one and when I finally finished the last sentence I felt completely exhausted. My nerves were rubbed raw and my heart was broken. This novel is tragic and painful, but it is one that I feel is incredibly valuable. It reminds us of the brutality of those who oppress others and inspires us to hold onto hope when everything else is lost. This is a powerful novel that should be read by both teens and adults.

Arn Chorn-Pond was eleven when the Khmer Rouge came to his small Cambodian village to round up the people. It started when they urged all the soldiers to follow them to the airport to greet the returning Prince - none of these men ever returned to their families. Shortly thereafter, all the people in Arn's village were told to walk. They had been led to believe that American bombers were on their way and the village would be obliterated. The people quickly gathered their belongings and began their voyage of death. Along the way, many die, but many more will die once they reach the rice fields that will become their new home and prison. Arn is separated from his family and forced to work under horrible conditions. Some of the things he was forced to do outside of the rice fields filled me with horror. It was hard to remind myself that although this is historical fiction it was inspired by the true story of Arn's life. 

Never Fall Down paints the gruesome picture of what life was like under the harsh rule of the Khmer Rouge. I can't even begin to imagine how terrifying life must have been for Arn and the other victims. What is crazy to me is the story begins in 1975. It makes me stomach churn to know that atrocities such as these happened in such recent history. I first learned about The Killing Fields in college during one of my Asian history courses, but I never experienced it in the way this book allows. You are pulled into the marches, camps, and fighting alongside Arn. The prose is succinct and written to match the cadence of Arn's speaking voice. It felt as if he were sitting next to me telling me about his story. I will admit that the writing style threw me off at first - it was unexpected - but once I got used to it and read McCormick's reasoning behind the style choice, I understood why the story needed to be written in such a manner.

Reading this novel left me filling hollow. I am so thankful for all the opportunities and experiences in my own life. Its so easy to take them for granted and get sucked into the stress of life. A novel like this can remind you of how insignificant your problems can be when compared to the suffering of others. 

I will offer a word of caution: this may not be the best read for younger teens. McCormick does not sanitize the conditions or events. The horrific nature of Arn's time in the camp and as a soldier may be a bit much for more sensitive readers.

One Last Gripe: I don't have a single complaint.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: Arn's perseverance and tenacity

First Sentence: At night in our town, it's music everywhere.

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, Arn's life is changed forever. He 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 become 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...


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