Initially I thought that Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick was a redundant book that just copied it's nonfiction cousins, the Alive in the Killing Fields by Nawuth Keat and First They Killed My Father---a Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung. Then I started reading it and the voice of the young narrator, Arn, got in my head and I was completely captivated by his voice and horrified by his story. I also thought that Patricia McCormick, who wrote the powerful story SOLD about young girls and prostitution in Asia, had just done a very good job researching the topic of the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s. It was not until I neared the end of the book that I realized the Arn is an actual person and McCormick based this book on his experiences with the Khmer Rouge as a young teen. Indeed the MARC record for the book says "it is a work of fiction based on a true story."
In the Author's Note, McCormick writes:
"Over the course of two years, I spent countless hours with Arn Chorn-Pond- at my home during long, emotionally draining interviews; in new England, talking to his adoptive family; in Cambodia, where we retraced virtually every step of his life during the three years, eight months, and twenty days of the reign of the Khmer Rouge...I asked Arn difficult, probing questions about his actions- the heroic and the horrific...Then I wrote his story as a novel. Like all trauma survivors, Arn can recall certain experiences in chilling detail; others he can tell in only vague generalities... Trying to capture that voice was like trying to bottle a lightening bug. Every time I imposed the rules of grammar or syntax on it, the lights went out. And so, in telling Arn's story I chose to use his own distinct and beautiful voice..."This voice, Arn's voice, that McCormick captures in Never Fall Down is what makes this book extraordinarily special. It makes the story come alive and real, as if Arn is in the room with me telling his horrific story. Here is just a small sample:
"Always, with a kind voice, they say to each other, comrade this, comrade that. One day you are comrade. The next day corpse."Arn, who was eventually adopted by an American family, wondered why he lived when so many died. His adoptive father told him it was because he was chosen. He felt that Arn was chosen to tell the story of his people and the war that so many have already forgotten. In Never Fall Down we are reminded of the horrors of war, particularly on children, yet we also see the indomitable human spirit. Thank you, Arn Chorn-Pond, for sharing your story with us and Patricia McCormick for your beautiful writing. We will remember.
If I were giving out grades, this book just earned an A+.