Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Book #34: Never Fall Down
I read this novel at the beach this week during my vacation, but it is definitely not a light-hearted novel. If you read my review of Sold by Patricia McCormick here, you will know that while she is an amazing writer, she does not shy away from the darkness in life. McCormick tackles topics that are very real in today's world but not necessarily written about and almost never directed at a YA audience. This book was tough to read in that I couldn't imagine these horrible things actually happening, but they did. Never Fall Down is based on the very real story of Arn Chorn-Pond, a man who was just a young boy in Cambodia in the 1970s when the Khmer Rouge, a dangerous Communist group took over his country, separating families, destroying towns, and killing innocents, all in the name of Communism. You don't need to know anything about the Khmer Rouge to appreciate this book. I myself was not quite familiar with the history behind this novel, but after reading a first-person account of what happened, I think I learned more than I would from this novel than I would from any history book.
Never Fall Down is comprised mostly of first-person account stories as told by Arn to McCormick, with a few additions from research, and McCormick's own imagination. When Arn was 11 years old, his village in Cambodia was overtaken by soldiers dressed all the same in black clothing. They warned the people that Americans were going to bomb their land, so they must all evacuate and walk for three days, then they could return. Arn and his family gather their few possessions and flee their town, expecting to return soon. They never do.
Arn and his family become separated over time until young Arn is completely alone and must fend for himself in this new time, which the Khmer Rouge refer to as "Year Zero." Everything that has happened in the lives of these Cambodians up till now must be forgotten. They must live in a new world where everyone is equal, and anyone of higher status will cease to exist. For the first time in his life, Arn, who has lived in poverty, is equal to everyone else. However, the conditions under which Arn must now live are far worse than any he had experienced while living poor in Cambodia. Arn must learn to keep his head down in order to survive. As he watches friends and enemies fall around him, he repeats his mantra: "never fall down."
Though this sounds terribly depressing (and while it may be at some points) McCormick's writing skills combined with Arn's raw, true stories keep the reader hooked. Obviously, since Arn was around to tell McCormick these stories, he does live through the reign of the Khmer Rouge, but to find out how exactly he does so when so many others were killed, you have to read his amazing story. Told in a first-person voice, with the realistic broken English of a Cambodian child, readers will be sucked into this story as if Arn himself was telling it.
There is a light at the end of this dark yet incredible story. Arn is not only alive and well today, but he has dedicated his live to speaking out about the violence that was inflicted upon him, and telling his story. Arn has founded Children of War, and Cambodian Living Arts, as well as Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development. He has received many awards for his work for humanitarian causes. He is truly a voice to those who would not otherwise be able to speak and share their stories. For more information about Arn and Never Fall Down, check out this YouTube video of a conversation between Arn and Patricia McCormick about the book and the true events that inspired it (warning: video may contain some spoilers, so if you don't want anything to be ruined check it out after reading!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-A_Y1kjJww