Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
Based on the true story of Cambodian advocate Arn Chorn-Pond, who defied the odds to survive the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979 and the labor camps of the Khmer Rouge.
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.
Until I picked up this book, I had never heard of the Khmer Rouge. The thought that such awful events - the murder and imprisonment of an entire people - has been overlooked by history is almost criminal. This is a book that everyone should read. Not only is it written extremely well, but it tells an incredibly important story. McCormick's decision to use improper grammar and syntax only strengthens Arn's voice and the impact of the story. Never Fall Down captures the suffering of a nation with a voice of innocence.
We read about history to learn from it, to see its mistakes. One of the reasons I love historical fiction so much is that it teaches about the past so much better than a textbook. Textbooks are factual and apathetic, while books carry empathy. McCormick captures the emotions of a child soldier so vividly with Never Fall Down that it was nearly impossible not to cry, reading this.
There were so many times during this book that I wanted to pull him out of the pages and into safety. A story like Arn's is unforgettable. I am horrified at my own ignorance of the Khmer Rouge, which only goes to show how important it is that stories like Arn's are told. McCormick does a remarkable job telling it, and I strongly urge you to read this book.
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