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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick (Review)

Genre:Young Adult, Contemporary, Adventure, War
Publication.Date  May 8th 2012
Published By:  Balzer + Bray
WebsitePatricia McCormick 

Never Fall Down- Goodreads
My review copy:ARC received from Harper Collins Canada in exchange for an honest review
Where to get:

When soldiers arrive in 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, Arn's life is changed forever. He 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 become 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...(Goodreads)

With no friend, no bike, I follow the soldiers anyhow. Dusty road out of town, very far, out in the country, near the frogging pond. Most the time Hong, he a little scared of frog, so I do it. I tie a little frog to the stick and wait for a bigger frog to come along and eat him. I always feel sorry for the little guy, but I tell myself that's how you catch dinner.
In just one day a person can get use to seeing dead body.
Three day go by and this guy never come back. The dirt pile in the woods, every day it get bigger. They don't explain, but I figure what they doing. They kill everyone who used to be rich or high ranking. Anyone with education. All the soldier, the teacher, the doctor, the musician. Anyone poor, no problem. World is upside down. Being rich now is no good. Being poor, this can save your life. The list in the black book, that's how they decide who live, who die.
"No crying," my aunt says, very strict. "You cry only in your mind." Then she hold us all in her arm. "Do whatever they say," she whisper. "Be like the grass. Bend low, bend low, then bend lower. The wind blow one way, you bow that way. It blow the other way, you do, too. That is the way to survive."

     Never Fall Down was one absolutely devastating read. I was not prepared for its searing authenticity and intensely emotional message; it took me by surprise, broke my heart to pieces and left me drained and breathless, but also very satisfied and enriched. Reading this book was an experience like no other. Profoundly harrowing and cathartic, Never Fall Down tells a true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, a child soldier in Cambodia who later became famous for his advocacy of peace and civil rights. With her raw and painfully realistic prose, Patricia McCormick weaves a gripping tale of death, abuse, starvation, terror, and brainwashing. A poignant story of survival against all odds and keeping one's humanity. This is a book with a beating heart, and one that everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - should read.

     Arn Chorn-Pond was born into a family of performing musicians that owned and ran a famous opera in Cambodia. When the Khmer Rouge (a ruthless organization that was following the Communist Party of Kampuchea) came to power, Chorn-Pond (and hundreds other children) was separated from his family and sent away to a work camp, where all the kids were forced to work in rice fields from sunrise to late night hours. Starved, terrified and growing weaker with every passing day, Chorn-Pond witnessed people dying all around him: from exhaustion and starvation, from sickness (like malaria), or simply being executed by the Khmer Rouge "Camrades" (for having too pale a skin, or too soft hands, or for not working hard enough). He had to learn how to bottle up his emotions, how to make himself numb and desensitized to all the death and horrors around him. He had to adapt and find a way to survive. Later on, Chorn-Pond and a group of other boys were chosen to play propaganda songs for the camp soldiers. That saved him from the certain death in the fields, but it also put him right in the middle of the Killing Fields (sites outside Phnom Penh, where nearly 17,000 people were tortured, executed, and buried in mass graves). When Cambodia was invaded by the Vietnamese, and the country was standing on the brink of liberation, this young teenage boy was handed a gun, sent to the front lines, and forced to become a soldier. 

     This book literally broke my heart to pieces. And the fact that it's based on a true story only makes it that much harder to stomach and embrace the events described in its pages. I loved the raw prose, the broken-English with all the spelling and grammar mistakes - all that made the narrative voice feel real, dynamic and convincing. It was almost as if Arn Chorn-Pond was sitting in the room with me and I was listening to him tell the story in an urgent, strained voice. In her "Dear Reader" note at the beginning of the book, Patricia McCormick explains how difficult it was for her to capture the authenticity of that voice, she says: "Trying to capture that voice was like trying to bottle a lightning bug. Every time I imposed the rules of grammar or syntax on it, the light went out. And so, after hundreds of interviews here and in Cambodia, where we traced the steps of his childhood and came face-to-face with the Khmer Rouge soldier who was both his warden and friend, I chose to use Arn's own distinct and beautiful voice." And I thank you for that, Mrs. McCormick. That was an excellent choice. Chorn-Pond's voice is what truly made this book for me. 

     The story itself is very sad, disquieting, and often absolutely horrific, but it's also one that ends with hope for the future and tears of happiness. I did cry while reading it, and quite a lot too. A couple of times I had trouble catching my breath.. And I definitely felt depressed, disturbed and broken. Never Fall Down affected me deeply and in ways I really didn't think possible. Something about this boy, and the way he tells his own story, was just so intensely emotional and overpowering, I couldn't help but to get completely immersed in it. It was draining. It was overwhelming. But it was also very rewarding, thought-provoking and unforgettable. And while all throughout this novel my stomach was twisted in a tight knot, I came out of reading it armed with at least three important things: knowledge about the Khmer Rouge and their crimes against humanity, compassion for all the victims, and admiration of Chorn-Pond's unbreakable spirit and inspiring courage.

NOTE: I will be giving away a copy of this wonderful book in a bigger Harper Collins PRIZE PACK at the end of the CONTEMPORARY FICTION MONTH! Don't forget to stop by and enter to win!

This review is posted as part of the Contemporary Fiction Month feature!

Click on the picture for full schedule.

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About the Author
Evie is the Blogger behind Bookish. She enjoys reading many different genres, especially YA, Paranormal, Contemporary Fiction and Fantasy.
She loves talking to authors and is always happy to welcome them for interviews, and guest posts. She also likes spreading the love for awesome books and  chatting with fellow book-worms.
You can find Evie here: Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Shelfari | The Library Thing


The Story Queen said...

Evie, just reading this REVIEW is giving me chills. Wow. I can't say that I'd heard of this book before now but I'm definitely glad I know of it now. Arn's story sounds utterly heartbreaking and to know that it's true (even in part) is just... ahh. I'm really intrigued by the broken English - it definitely sounds like a smart and realistic choice and I'm glad that you appreciated that aspect of the novel. Fantastic review! :)


Evie said...

Sonia! <3 Thank you SO SO SO much for stopping by and commenting! I'm so happy that you like my review, it was so difficult to fully convey the downpour of emotions this book has caused. I strongly recommend checking it out, you won't regret!

Enbrethiliel said...


I got teary eyed just reading your review, Evie! I can just imagine what the book will do to me . . .

Right now I'm sitting in my safe home, munching some perfectly salted kumara fries, sipping iced tea, reading blogs, and realising that some children don't have even a tenth of the comforts (not to mention luxuries!) that I take for granted every day.

Evie said...

I wasn't prepared for what this book did to me. At all. Seriously, this is such an eye-opening, thought-provoking, meaningful read! Thank you so much for your comment, sweetie, your comments always make my day! :)

Kris (Imaginary Reads) said...

This sounds like a wonderful read. Your review appeals the the heart and makes me want to go get a copy of this book right now. Thanks for the review!

Evie said...

Thanks Kris! :) Means a lot to me to hear that you feel that way! This is definitely a book worth reading :) Thank you for your lovely comment!

Bonnie said...

Evie, this sounds like one of those books that would be hard to get through because it is so emotional, but also impossible to put down because it is so compelling. I'm torn because one the one hand it sounds like an absolute must read, but on the other might be on my list of "books that need to go in the freezer". Call me an emotional sissy these days but it just sounds too heartbreaking for me right now.

Your review is absolutely beautiful though. I think you did an excellent job conveying the powerful nature of this book and the narrative sounds just out of this world.

REBECCA@ReadingWishes said...

It's startling when you read a book and you aren't expecting it to be devasting and heartbreaking. I think preparation is good. Also for the book to be based on a true story? That's even more sad. I hadn't heard about this book until your review so thanks for informing me.

RhiannonPaille said...

I'm captivated by the language used, as if the mistakes are purposeful because that's the way the character speaks. Beautiful.

Shannon said...

I'm ready with my kleenex to read it. :) I'll make sure I follow it up with a lighthearted read!

Thanks for the review!


precious said...

I am having goosebumps just by reading this review of yours. Very intriguing.

Randi said...

Wow, the quotes you gave really give a sense of the story, and though it sounds horrific, I would really like to read it. Thank you for sharing your review!

Joanne Levy said...

Wow. This sounds like a very hard, but important read. Very thoughtful review, Evie. I'm going to have to check this book out.

Evie said...

Guys, thank you so much for all the comment love, it's MUCH appreciated and I love you all for stopping by! :) Means the world to me! <3

Amy said...

This sounds like such an amazing and heart breaking book. I would have to be in the right frame of mind to read this, but it sounds like it is worth reading. Beautiful review!!

Veronika said...

Wow, this books sounds awesome! my TBR pile is getting bigger and bigger every day I visit this blog :D Can't wait to read it!

Maria_M. said...

Sounds awesome!

Evie said...

Thanks for all the lovely comments everyone! :) You guys rock my world! :D

Hida Villa said...

I just love your site is so amazing and I would love to get this book. thanks for the giveaway. keep up with all your awesome work on this blog :D

Hida Villa said...

I just love your site is so amazing and I would love to get this book. thanks for the giveaway. keep up with all your awesome work on this blog :D

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