Reviews for Never Fall Down

Booklist Reviews 2012 March #1
*Starred Review* McCormick, the acclaimed author of Sold (2006) and Purple Heart (2009), has now written a novel based on the life of Cambodian peace advocate Arn Chorn-Pond. The story begins with an 11-year-old Arn in 1975 in Battambang, Cambodia. The war between the government forces and the Khmer Rouge is remote until the day the Khmer Rouge arrive in his town and, taking all the children captive, march them into the countryside, where they become, essentially, slave laborers. Arn survives the killing fields through a combination of luck and musical ability. But his life changes again when Vietnamese forces invade Cambodia and, overnight, the boy is forced to become a Khmer Rouge soldier. He will eventually escape to Thailand and then to the U.S., but the four years of genocide in between are an unspeakable experience of suffering, torture, and death. This is not an easy book to read, as it unveils the truth about one of the most hideous examples of inhumanity in the twentieth or any other century. McCormick has done a remarkable job of creating an authentic first-person voice for Arn and using it to lay bare his almost unimaginable experiences of horror. The resulting book is powerfully, hauntingly unforgettable. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Significant media outreach will ensure that this book gets crossover attention from both teens and adults, who will be eager to see what's next from this National Book Award finalist. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Fall
McCormick's novel draws on hundreds of hours of interviews with Arn Chorn-Pond, who was eleven in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge gained control of Cambodia. Written in realistically halting English, the narrative might be unreadable if not for Arn's brash, resilient personality. McCormick creates an unflinching, riveting portrait of genocide as seen through a boy's eyes.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2012 #3
Arn knows that if he ever falls down, he will be killed -- shot, bayoneted, struck with an ax, or taken "someplace [he] can rest" by the Khmer Rouge. He's watched soldiers lead away countless others in the work camp, and they never return. "But the dirt pile, it get bigger all the time. Bigger and worse smell. Like rot…That pile, now it's like mountain." Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews with Arn Chorn-Pond, who was eleven in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge gained control of Cambodia, McCormick creates an unflinching, riveting portrait of genocide as seen through a boy's eyes. Written in realistically halting English, the narrative might be unreadable if not for Arn's brash, resilient personality. Even before the regime change, he is scrappy, cutting school to sell ice cream on the streets and then using his earnings to gamble. His cheekiness and shrewd survival skills keep him from succumbing to despair in the camps. What's more, he becomes a motivating force for fellow prisoners such as Mek, the music teacher enlisted to teach the boys how to play patriotic songs on traditional instruments. Having watched his wife and children die, Mek wants to die, too, but Arn won't let him. "I hit this guy with my fist. ‘Okay if you die!' I say. ‘But what about us? You don't teach us to play, we die too. Us kid. Like your kid die, we will die also.'" The "happy ending" -- adoption by an American family after the war -- is compromised until he can figure out how to deal with the hate in his heart: "Hate for the people who kill my family, hate for the people who kill my friend, hate for myself." And so he tells his story. And so McCormick's novel is one that needs to be read. christine m. heppermann Copyright 2012 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 April #2
A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields. The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive--and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story. Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 March #4

McCormick (Purple Heart) again tackles a horrifying subject with grace while unsentimentally portraying the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia's killing fields. Not unlike Linda Sue Park's A Long Walk to Water, this novel is based on a real person, Arn Chorn Pond, who was 11 years old at the time of the country's Communist revolution. Arn's narration balances a palpable and constant sense of fear, starvation, and humiliation with his will to survive. Doing so involves great moral compromises, bravery, and a capacity for love and friendship despite the nightmarish circumstances. McCormick divides the narrative into five periods: life before the revolution; in the camps, where Arn learns to play the music (which is used to disguise the noise of regular executions); his induction into the Khmer Rouge; his time in a refugee camp; and, finally, his transition to America. On how to survive, Arn observes, "You show you care, you die. You show fear, you die. You show nothing, maybe you live." While never shying from the ugliness and brutality of this genocide, McCormick crafts a powerful tribute to the human spirit. Ages 14-up. (May)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2012 May

Gr 8 Up--With unflinching candor, an authentic voice, and an indomitable will to survive, Cambodian human-rights activist Arn Chorn Pond narrates the remarkable story of his survival during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror and genocide. McCormick has blended his personal recollections with extensive interviews, historical research, and her own imagination to create a powerful, intimate novel. In 1975, 11-year-old Arn lives an impoverished but inventive life with his aunt and siblings. His father has died and his mother can no longer run the family-owned opera house. After the Khmer Rouge soldiers arrive in his town, everyone is ordered to agricultural labor camps. Separated from his family, Arn witnesses the brutality and sadism of the "black pajama" soldiers, the exhaustion and starvation of his companions, and the horrific Killing Fields massacres. When the soldiers ask for musicians, Arn volunteers. Although he has never played, his natural talent quickly emerges and he becomes a popular khim player, ensuring his survival. With the 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, the Khmer soldiers abandon his camp and he flees with thousands across the border into Thailand. Rescued by peace activist Peter L. Pond, Arn and other orphans come to America where Arn eventually channels his traumatic past into helping other refugees and preserving traditional Cambodian arts and music. Once again, McCormick has delivered a heartrending expos of human tragedy. The natural syntax and grammar of Arn's narration imbues his story with a stunning simplicity and clarity against a backdrop of political chaos, terror, and death. This compelling story will awaken compassion and activism in secondary readers.--Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, Durham, NC

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VOYA Reviews 2012 February
Following the pattern of excellence McCormick began with her novel SOLD (Hyperion, 2006/VOYA December 2006), she has created another amazing story through skilled and patient research. This time she brings us Arn Chorn Pond, one of the thousands of children who fled with their families after the Khmer Rouge terrorized Cambodia in the late 1970s. Gathering bits of stories from Arn and several other sources, this carefully woven work of fiction could not be more real In April 1975, Arn Chorn Pond, his family, and everyone in his village joined thousands of his people as the Khmer Rouge led them into the countryside saying, "The Americans are coming!" Over time and distance, many people died from starvation and dehydration--the Khmer Rouge's first step to shrink the masses. Next, they targeted the educated. During the next several years, Arn is separated from his family, then from all adults, and then from females. He worked in rice fields nearly around the clock; watched people kneel in a line and have their heads bashed, then pushed those bodies into a pit as ordered; learned to play music to honor the Khmer Rouge; became a soldier for them; and finally ran away. Told in brutal honesty this book honors Arn and those who managed to survive Cambodia's Communist leader, Pol Pot, and his war to take over this small country.--C.J. Bott. 5Q 3P J S A/YA Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.