The smell is what gets him. He can survive the endless marching, total exhaustion and constant hunger. But the smell from the dirt piles, the piles of dead bodies, penetrates his wall of stone-faced nothingness. Sickly-sweet yet slightly bitter, the smell makes him wince, cringe, and lose what little he has been able to put into his stomach. He could survive another day if not for the smell.
Arn Chorn-Pond was 11 years old when the Khmer Rouge came into his Cambodian village and forced everyone to march to the work camps. Never Fall Down is a fictional account of Chorn-Pond’s capture, torture, and exploitation by these “freedom fighters.” Divided from his family, he struggles to survive each day by not drawing attention to himself. Arn is a smart boy, and eventually he uses his quick mind to learn to play the khim, a traditional musical instrument. The Khmer Rouge use music as propaganda to turn the minds of the captives and make them loyal to the cause, and as a musician Arn gains some small status among the soldiers. Does he dare risk standing up for himself and the other children against his captors? Now that he has some small measure of freedom, should he just run away?
Patricia McCormick is the author of numerous young adult novels, including Cut and Sold, for which she was nominated for the National Book Award. McCormick is an author who is not afraid to examine difficult topics such as self-injury and sex trafficking. She decided to write Never Fall Down in the first person so that Arn’s own voice (including his broken English) could be heard. This book is a good choice for reluctant teen readers needing to read historical fiction, or for anyone who enjoyed Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone or Emmanuel Jal’s War Child.