By Elizabeth Wroten
Review: Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
On 29, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
When soldiers arrive at his hometown in Cambodia, Arn is just a kid, dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, hustling for spare change, and selling ice cream with his brother. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever. Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children, weak from hunger, malaria, or sheer exhaustion, dying before his eyes. He sees prisoners marched to a nearby mango grove, never to return. And he learns to be invisible to the sadistic Khmer Rouge, who can give or take away life on a whim.
One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn’s never played a note in his life, but he volunteers. In order to survive, he must quickly master the strange revolutionary songs the soldiers demand–and steal food to keep the other kids alive. This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated from the Khmer Rouge, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier. He lives by the simple credo: Over and over I tell myself one thing: never fall down.
I almost put this one down at the beginning. Not because it was bad, but because it was so good and yet so tragic. Ever since I became a mother, and I’m sure this is true for many women, I have a really difficult time reading about atrocities that befall children. Never Fall Down is full of those atrocities. However, I feel it’s really important to know that these things do happen so that we can prevent them from happening again (although I don’t think we, as humans, do a very good job of that).
One thing I really dislike about my high school education was that the history I learned didn’t focus enough on other cultures or on modern times (post-WWII). A lot of really awful things (and interesting and important events) have happened in the past 50-60 years and yet I had no idea until I stumbled upon them on my own (Cambodia’s civil war, the Biafran War, etc.). I think having read about them earlier would have made me more humble, more sensitive, more grateful for what I had, and better rounded. I also think I would have engaged more with current events. Never Fall Down gave me a much greater appreciation for Cambodia knowing that they have emerged from such an oppressive and cruel regime.
I know this book isn’t for everyone, but it’s still an important book. Arn’s story is absolutely heart breaking and shouldn’t be lost. It’s also a very powerful story of the ability of someone so young to survive and come through things that it would seem you can’t live through. And his power to accept and forgive and find beauty and purpose after such a unimaginable horror is nothing short of amazing and inspiring.