Never Fall Down

 
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Never Fall Down
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.

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An Outstanding True Story

Arn Chorn-Pond had the typical life of a Cambodian child, until a Communist group called the Khmer Rouge took control of the government and forced all the citizens into work camps. In NEVER FALL DOWN, Patricia McCormick takes Arn's account of his life in "the Killing Fields" and writes it as a gripping and unforgettable novel.

Following novels about a soldier in Iraq, a child sold into sexual slavery in India, and an American girl who can't stop cutting herself, McCormick proves that she can write in any voice and about any subject. NEVER FALL DOWN is an unflinching record of how Arn managed to survive when one quarter of the Cambodian population perished. As a bedtime reader, I found myself haunted by Arn's recollections and trying to read it earlier in the day. The descriptions of violence are too graphic for my middle school students, but this should be required reading for high school students.

There are so many discussion points in this book. Apart from the violence, the brutality of starvation, disease, and the grueling work conditions are detailed. Arn says, "New schedule announced at meeting tonight. Work from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Now, day and night, the same thing. Also the word sleep, it's not allowed anymore. Okay to say rest, but not sleep. Forget this word." My heart hurts to think that this was Arn and many others' reality for years; I want to talk with other readers about the gratitude they felt, I was humbled by his story.

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