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Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Never Fall Down (edition 2012)

by Patricia McCormick

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3552030,716 (4.31)31
Title:Never Fall Down
Authors:Patricia McCormick
Info:Balzer Bray (2012), Hardcover, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:war, refugee, cambodia, family, concentration camp, thailand, vietnam, 1970s, 1980s, historical fiction, survival

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Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick



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In Never Fall Down, Patricia McCormick tells the real life story of Arn Chorn-Pond, a child survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide that took place in Cambodia during the 1970’s. Taking his words and turning them into a work of fiction is an amazing feat, and the reader is awarded with a informative and harrowing account of one young boy’s struggle to stay alive during years of horror and uncertainty. One of the first things Arn learned was to never fall down as when one did, the chances that that person would be able or would be allowed to get back up were very slim.

Even though this book is classed as YA, it was very difficult to read. Every page is laced with the violence and cruelty that that was inflicted upon the population of this country, from the very young to the very old. Arn was separated from his family, housed in a prison camp, and forced to work in the rice fields for hours at a time. Food was scarce and many children starved. Arn was able to survive by learning to play a musical instrument and become part of a band that had to play loudly to cover up the sounds up people being murdered. Eventually even being forced to participate in the killing, Arn survived by closing his mind and simply not thinking about what he was having to do. When Viet Nam invaded he was conscripted as a soldier and finally was able to escape to a refugee camp in Thailand and was adopted into an American family. All this and he was barely fifteen when he was rescued.

Arn Chorn-Pond has dedicated his life to humanitarian causes, especially to young people. He founded Children of War, an organization that aids children in war-torn countries. Unfortunately there is too much of this type of work to do in today’s world. Patricia McCormick thoroughly researched her story and often was able to trace people that Arn has no idea actually survived to get first hand collaboration on his experiences. This inspiring and powerful story is helped by the author’s use of the exact syntax of Arn’s speaking voice. Never Fall Down is a moving and haunting tale that paints a vivid picture of one young boy’s ability to survive and rise above the inhumanity he’s been forced to endure. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Sep 1, 2014 |
The Short of It:

McCormick delivers a heartbreaking account of survival.

The Rest of It:

Never Fall Down is about Arn Chorn-Pond and how he survived the Cambodian Genocide under the Khmer Rouge. I know many of you have read about the Cambodian Genocide before. There are lots of books on the subject, but what struck me about this one is that it’s tied to music and it’s told in novel form, but based on true events.

Arn and his family are forced to leave their home with thousands of others, to march along the road with just a few possessions and very little food. Their journey goes on for a very long time. Their only order is to keep walking. As the people around them die of dehydration and lack of food, Arn, eleven at the time, is forced to witness the countless killings of those too weak to continue. When Arn is chosen by the Khmer Rouge to play an instrument, he feels as if his life depends on it, and it does. He learns to play the khim, a rather difficult instrument to pick up, and as a result, falls in favor with some of the Khmer soldiers.

However, this brief respite (if you can even call it that) does not shield him from the horrors of war. Every day, someone is killed. Kids he’s come to know, or music teachers or other educated people. His slow starvation and the effects of malnutrition begin to take their toll. But through it all, Arn remains positive, hopeful even. When given a tiny bit of food, he opts to give it to those who need it more. But when forced to take up arms and fight alongside the Khmer Rouge, he becomes what he calls “a tiger” which is something he regrets and probably one of the hardest things he has to work through once he makes it to the States.

Arn’s story is truly amazing. His strong-willed personality and his love of music is what sets him apart. This was a tough read because of the subject matter, but McCormick’s decision to tell it in novel form gives the reader the distance he/she needs to experience the horrors but from a few paces back. Also, this isn’t a one-sided retelling of what we’ve all read before. This book touches on members of the Khmer Rouge and one soldier in particular that helps Arn survive his horrible ordeal.

The other thing to point out, is that this book was initially geared towards younger readers. Because of this, the material is very easy to read but at the same time, gives you a lot to consider and discuss. My book club discussed the book last night and we had the opportunity to do a teleconference with a survivor, which really added to the discussion. The book gives you a very realistic account of what went on during that time. There is also some humor and a lot of heartbreak. I listened to a portion on audio and it was a very emotional experience. I highly recommend the book and audio. It was a National Book Award finalist in 2012.

For more reviews, visit my blog: Book Chatter. ( )
  tibobi | Aug 13, 2014 |
I simply must read this. Since it's focused on the horrific events that occured in Cambodia (brings me to tears whenever I think about it), something tells me this book is going to affect me on many different levels.
  Summer_Missfictional | May 23, 2014 |
A pretty good book from the genre of developing world refugee books, but has many of the elements you see in all books from this genre (not a bad thing, just predictable). Story felt really authentic and the flashback to 70s and 80s Cambodia was a needed reflection. ( )
  rdwhitenack | Jul 29, 2013 |
You know, I’ve learnt about Cambodian child soldiers at school. I’ve learnt that they are usually misguided, impressionable children who didn’t know what was happening half the time and were too scared to act the other half of the time. They said that those children were forced to kill their family and drink their blood. They said that those children became feral killing machines because they didn’t know to do anything but kill mindlessly.

But, at school, no one mentioned how the children bonded with each other, how they perform small acts of mercy for each other – stealing food, claiming the blames for themselves – and how not all of the Khmer Rouge were not bad, that sometimes they killed so that they could live.

This book affected me profoundly – not because it was written with smooth, flowing words, but rather because it was written in the stilted, broken dialect of one foreign to English. I’ve read some reviews where people complained about the writing style, but I disagree.

This is a war story. It is not an ode to the horrors of war, it’s not a book designed to impress you with the multi-syllable words, or the flowing sentences, each bleeding into the next. It is not an elegant tribute to why child soldiers should be stopped. It is a first-handed account from a boy – a man – who survived, who endured all of this who is now recounting his story to other people in hopes of raising awareness.

When I was learning about child soldiers in school, it remained a distant thing. Sure, I knew that it was terrible, that it ought to be stopped, that it was wrong, but, deep down, a selfish part of me was thinking: this is never going to affect me, why should I do anything? It remained, to me, something akin to murders and abductions – I knew they existed but I also knew that they would never affect me on a personal level.

Before reading this book, I had never really thought about what happened to the children after the war was finished – did they go back to school? What of their family? What of the children they fought with? They were all questions lumped with things like why is 687 Earth days in one Mars year?

Do you see that man? He’s Arn-Chorn Pond, the boy, the man, whom this book is about. He has witnessed murders, has helped bury still living bodies, has killed, has stolen, has done so many unspeakable things to survive. But, looking at him, would you know that? Or would you just think him to be another ordinary man, one with a safe, happy childhood and whose worst offence is something like a parking ticket?

This is a survival story. It’s a story containing unspeakable actions all done in the name of survival. But it’s also a story of how, no matter what you have done, you can use your experiences for the better, to help others like you.

There are two sides of every coin. There are two ways you can go from any actions. Arn-Chorn Pond could have chosen to be the man in the bar you see every night, drinking heavily to dim the pain, to blur the memories. He could have become a hit-man, using his already developed skills to bring him money. He could have a drug dealer and terrorized his opposition. The point is, he could be so many different things that would benefit himself more, but he chose to do the thing that would benefit children of similar circumstances more, and that, I think, is the most commendable part of the story for me.
( )
  Joyce.Leung | May 24, 2013 |
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At night in our town, it's music everywhere.
And I know then I have power. Power from playing the khim and leading the other singer. Power from also being a dancer. Power from being a little bit a star in the show. I feel big with this power--tall, not like little kid--like right now I just stop Siv from probably dying. No one here talks back to the Khmer Rouge, no one challenge them. But maybe I can now. (end of chapter 5)
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"Cambodian child soldier Arn Chorn-Pond defied the odds and used all of his courage and wits to survive the murderous regime of the Khmer Rouge"--

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