Book Review: Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
Release Date: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Young Adult Realistic Fiction, Cultural
ISBN: 978-0061730931
Source: Bought
Add it to Goodreads

This National Book Award nominee from two-time finalist Patricia McCormick is the unforgettable story of Arn Chorn-Pond, who defied the odds to survive the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979 and the labor camps of the Khmer Rouge.

Based on the true story of Cambodian advocate Arn Chorn-Pond, and authentically told from his point of view as a young boy, this is an achingly raw and powerful historical novel about a child of war who becomes a man of peace. It includes an author’s note and acknowledgments from Arn Chorn-Pond himself.

When soldiers arrive in his hometown, Arn is just a normal little boy. 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 dying before his eyes. 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.

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, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier.

This one was difficult to read because of the subject matter. This novel is inspired by the true experience of Arn Chorn-Pond, who survived the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979. This is a story about death and loss. Loss of family. Freedom. Control. Arn and so many more are stripped of so much. Almost everything. Some are indeed stripped of everything. All are reduced to so little. Given so little and expected to do so much. Killed, tortured, raped, and starved when they don’t live up to these new, ridiculous standards. Killed if you smile, don’t confess (lies), sneak food in an attempt to make it through the day, killed if you’re related to another set to be murdered.

It’s astonishing what Arn did to stay alive and what went on in the camp he lived in for many years. Music saved Arn’s life. Music. Discernment. Patience. Quite a few things but to know that Arn’s music was played when so many were being killed and his music saved his own life… wow. This is also a book about being rescued and surviving that and this is just as significant a part of the journey as any other of Arn’s. What a road this man has been down. So powerful.

Now, at first, I was taken aback by the broken English writing style but I quickly realized the age of the narrator and the stakes so I committed myself to this story of his and am so glad that I did. McCormick explained this writing style of hers so accurately when she said, When he talks about his childhood – as a musician in a death camp or as a soldier no taller than his gun – it’s as if he becomes that child all over again. He speaks urgency, terror, confusion – and sometimes wonder and wisdom.

That’s exactly how the writing style can be described as so if you’re on board with that, you’re golden. But even if you don’t think you are on board for this, I challenge you to read the first six chapters and then try to put the book down. I don’t think you’ll be able to because it’s so captivating. So moving. This is not an easy book to read because it is so disturbing and details the heartless acts of many but it’s important to read to educate one self on the Cambodian genocide and remember what people are capable of. The good and the bad. It’s important to spread awareness because with awareness comes compassion and that’s something we definitely need more of. Wonderful, heartbreaking book. Must read.

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick is available today.