Never Fall Down

Written by Patricia McCormick
Review by Pat Walsh

In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge march into the Cambodian town of Battambang and eleven-year-old Arn Chorn-Pond’s happy life is changed forever. The local people are rounded up, force-marched into the countryside, and put to work in the rice fields to provide food for the regime. Many people are brutally killed along the way. Many more die of malaria or starvation. Others are tortured and slaughtered, their bodies buried in the Killing Fields. Separated from his family, Arn uses his wits to stay alive. His love of music saves him when his captors give him a flute and order him to play revolutionary songs. Later, he is conscripted into the Khmer Rouge, one of an army of children taught to kill their own people. For almost four years, Arn witnesses the destruction of his people and culture. He does what he has to do in order to survive, and this does not make easy reading.

This novel for young adults is based on a true story. After he reached the safety of a refugee camp in Thailand, Arn was adopted by an American family and taken to the US. He is now a representative of Amnesty International and a founder of Children of War. By using broken English, Patricia McCormick gives Arn’s voice a heartbreaking innocence and immediacy, which only serves to emphasise the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime. McCormick’s research is impeccable. She spent two years talking with Arn, piecing together his imperfectly remembered story. She fills in the gaps, using research and imagination to devastating effect. This is a harrowing book, but there are moments of tenderness and even beauty. It is a testament to the strength of the human spirit, and of Arn’s simple determination to Never Fall Down. Highly recommended.