Never Fall Down – Child Soldiers

Never Fall Down

Patricia McCormick, Author

Balzer & Bray, May 2012, Fiction

Suitable for:  YA Fiction, ages 14 and up

Themes: Child Soldiers, Cambodia History, Courage, Genocide, Khmer Rouge, War

Opening Synopsis:  “When Arn Chorn-Pond was eleven, the Khmer Rouge, a radical Communist regime, came to power in Cambodia, herding the entire population to work camps in the countryside.  Families were separated, and everyone, including children, was forced to work long, grueling hours digging ditches and growing rice…Nearly two million people died — one quarter of the population.  They were buried in mass graves called the Killing Fields.  It is the worst genocide ever inflicted by a country on its own people.”

Patricia McCormick, who is known for taking on complex and tough subjects, has done it again with the story about the genocide that occurred in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized control of Cambodia and tortured and killed its own people.  This extraordinary  story about Arn Chorn-Pond, an 11-year-old boy who survived, is true.  The author spent two years with Arn, retracing his life during the three years, eight months and twenty days reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge.  This book is powerful, emotional, horrific, gruesome, and brutal.  It is an important book for young people and adults to learn about this period of history.   Yet, it is an inspirational story of survival, courage, hope and a testimony to human spirit.

Arn is a care-free boy catching frogs with his best friend and selling ice cream with his brother.   One day an army of soldiers dressed in black enter the village and force everyone to the countryside.  His aunt, four sisters and a brother gather a few belongings and food, and join the throngs of people who are walking away from their homes.  Arm works in the rice fields until, the Khmer Rouge separate him from his family and send him to another labor camp.  He watches starving kids die in the rice fields, and he tells himself that he must never fall down.  Arn finds every possible means to survive.

When the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument, Arn volunteers without knowing a single note.  The Khmer Rouge want to hear revolutionary songs and Arn becomes a very good musician.  He does so to keep himself and other kids alive.  He also learns to dance and entertain which gives him more freedom in the camp and access to more food, which he sneaks to kids.  Arn is taken to the Mango Trees, where he sees the piles of earth and smells the stench of death.  He knows  these Killing Fields  and the Khmer Rouge force him to do unthinkable things.  There is so much death, starvation and brutality, that we see Arn transform over time into an emotionless and numb boy.   As the Vietnamese approach, he is given a gun and used as a child soldier and spy.  He quickly realizes that the Khmer Rouge is using the kids as bait in the jungles.  He is always running, because if he falls down he knows he won’t get up.

Why I like this book:  Patricia McCormick chose to write the book in Arn’s natural speaking voice — broken English.  The story is told in first person making it an even more powerful, convincing, and real.  In Never Fall Down, McCormick gives Arn a voice to speak his truth and share the pain, which he found cathartic and part of his healing process.  He tells his story so people will know first hand what happened.  McCormick is the author of Purple Heart, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009, and SOLD, a National Book Award finalist.

Today Arn Chorn-Pond has dedicated his life to peace and humanitarian causes around the world.  He founded the Children of War, an organization that aids children held hostage by war and violence.  He is the founder of Cambodian Living Arts, a group that helps preserve the traditional arts of Cambodia by pairing young students with the few master musicians who survived the Khmer Rouge.   He has received the Amnesty International Rights Award, the Reebok Human Rights Award, and the Spirit of Anne Frank Outstanding Citizen Award.  He lives in Cambodia and spends part of his year speaking in the United States.


About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

18 thoughts on “Never Fall Down – Child Soldiers

  1. This sounds like an interesting book. I would like to read it. It has a strong message in it. I’ve read some books about children fighting in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. It is sad that children would have to fight.


    • Erik, it is not a book that entertains. It is a snapshot from a young boys traumatic past. It is a tragedy that kids are forced to fight — and it is still happening in Africa and the Middle East. You would think the world would learn. You should run this book by your mother.


  2. That sounds absolutely awful and a very important message to share so that everyone knows just what went on. They grow up so fast so young and see and experience the worst things. Poor children.


    • Nessa, this is not a book that is meant to entertain, but one to open our eyes to period that many people know little about and don’t really understand. In order to stop rebel factors from forcing children into becoming soldiers, we have to educate ourselves. The story does show the courage of a boy to survive and ultimately make a difference in the world. Today, he is a celebrated peace advocate today. He’s done so much good and is a symbol of hope.


  3. I am so eager to read this one, Pat. I knew it was coming out around now and it has been on my list since watching a couple of videos about Arn. I have so much respect for the stories Patty McCormick chooses to tell. These voices need to be heard. Thank you for this review, Pat.


    • Joanna, I knew you would appreaciate Patty McCormick’s book. Have so much respect for her as a writer. I believe the two years she spent with Arn and writing this story profoundly touched her. This story is a must for teenagers and adults to read to really understand what the Khmer Rouge inflicted upon its own people. The thing the strikes me, is that it is still happening with the Kony rebels in Africa and in the Middle East.


  4. Ever since I learned about Pol Pot and the genocide he inflicted upon his own people, I have wondered why there are so many westerners that to this day, are unaware of the atrocities that occurred in the Killing Fields. Buddhist monks in Cambodia now have shrines that people can visit that contain millions of skulls of the dead. They open the windows of these shrines daily so that people may touch the bones and understand what took place there. It is unfathomable what one man can do to another man. Books like the one that you have recommended here are the kind that everyone needs to read (if anything) just to be aware that evil is real and those of us who care, need to stand vigil so that genocide is not allowed to happen again.


  5. WOW!! Talk about a powerful and gut wrenching story – and also so true. I think we all need to know about terrible things like this. the same with the Holocaust and similar outrages against humanity. Only by “knowing” do future generations have a hope of stopping it from happening again. My congratulations,and and all due respect to author Patricia McCormick. She is educating the future, so that hopefully, the past will not repeat itself.

    Patricia, your blog is a great resource for just such information. Thank you.

    *Books for Kids – Manuscript Critiques


    • Margot, I’m glad you feel the same way I do. Patricia McCormick is a master at telling stories that are uncomfortable and need to be told. It is powerful and offers hope. You are right, if we close our eyes to the tragedies in our world, how can we change as a humanity. But, genocide is still occuring in Africa with the Kony regime and kids are being forced to become child soldiers as I write. The same has happened in the Middle East. That’s why book’s like McCormick’s and Peggy Deitz Shea’s “Abe in Arms” are so important for young people and adults to read. I appreciate your comments!


    • Thank You Leigh! If I wrote YA, I’d want to cover the kinds of subjects Patricia McCormick does — guess it’s the journalist in me.

      Thanks, I’m thinking about it as it sounds like a challenge and something I should try.


  6. Thanks so much for another terrific review of outrage by knowledge. I just asked my husband about this time in Cambodia and he said the shame of it was that the CIA knew about it and was supportive because of Cambodia’s stance on the Vietnam war. I wonder if that is why we haven’t heard more about this. America is not proud of it’s past here.

    I am proud of McCormick for tackling this subject in such an intimate way. Not merely recording events but actually telling the story of a boy soldier she has befriended. This is one book I’ll have to digest when there are good things going on at home. The more I learn here on your blog the more I am outraged and shocked at humanity. And how inhuman we can be.



    • Clar, I can’t thank you enough for your comments and addotional information on the subject. Some of it was new to me. It’s hard not to be political here, as I know that is not Patricia McCormick’s goal — she simply wants to share the story of a boy who survived a horrific situation and went onto become a peace advocate. You’re right, America is not proud of its past on this subject. That may be why most people don’t know or want to hear about the atrocities of the war. Many thanks for your insight.


  7. A powerful review Pat. I had been waiting for this book to come out as I have seen it advertised. Arn is an incredible young man.
    This reminds me of the childrens book that was written about Arn and his life which I posted last year… by Michelle Lord. A read for younger children.
    It also has a lot of information, interviews etc in the back of the book.
    Reading your review reminded me of my visit to Cambodia last year, and the book I returned with, you never forget what you see there.
    Thankyou again for such a powerful review Pat.


    • Diane, I can’t wait until you get a copy of this book. I now remember your review about the book about Arn for children, and there was a lot of emphasis on the music and the opera house. Your book is very appropriate for younger children — and I’m glad you included the link for younger readers. Patty mentions in the book his parents ran an opera house, but the focus is much more intense. I thought of you as I reviewed this book as you mentioned seeing the prison camps and Killing Fiellds. Will be very interested in your thoughts when you read this novel. Hope you review it too. It is a gripping book.


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