What You Need to Know:|
• Never Fall Down is a story of survival, based on Arn Chorn-Pond's experiences in Cambodia in the late 1970's.
• While the story is based on fact and Arn's actual experiences, Patricia McCormick chose to write it as a novel,
merging Arn's recollections with her own extensive research and imagination.
• Patricia McCormick chose to tell Arn's story without the rules of syntax and grammar, in order to better capture
Arn's "distinct and beautiful voice".
• McCormick describes the many horrors of war - death, cruelty, loss - with just enough graphic detail to make
readers understand, the brutality, but not enough to become unnecessarily gory.
• Because this novel is historical fiction, the reality of these disturbing images may be upsetting to some readers.
• This book would be a great addition to an advanced middle school or upper school reading list.
• On her website, Patricia McCormick answers questions about Never Fall Down and shares links to sites that raise
funds and awareness for relevant charitable organizations.
• To learn more about Arn Chorn-Pond and his current charitable work, you can visit his website.
Never Fall Down is a powerful and unforgettable story that reveals the unspeakable tragedies that occurred while the Khmer Rouge were in power in Cambodia. It is a story that needed to be told and now needs to be shared, so that people will never forget what happened and will continue to fight against the acts of injustice that still take place around the world today. According to Patricia McCormick, "Nearly two million people died - one quarter of the population. It is the worst genocide ever inflicted by a country on its own people." The facts are compelling, but as told through they eyes of Arn Chorn-Pond, this story is life changing.
Prior to 1975, Arn's life in his small Cambodian village is filled with music, movies and rock n' roll. Although he is not well-off and has his share of challenges, he is a happy and industrious 11-year-old boy. Everything changes, though, when the Khmer Rouge, a radical Communist regime, come into power.
The Khmer Rouge force the people of Arn's village to flee. Most, including Arn, his aunt and his siblings, begin the long walk to the countryside where the Khmer Rouge imprison them in work camps. Even on this initial walk, the devastation begins. Prized possessions are left in the road, food is scarce, the Khmer Rouge are ruthless and people begin to die. Arn says, "In just one day a person can get use to seeing dead body." The world is turned upside down for Arn. In this new world, Arn says, "Being rich now is no good. Being poor, this can save your life."
Arn quickly learns to live by the rules of the Khmer Rouge: Families are separated. Everyone is equal. There is no money. Food is limited. Everyone is called, Comrade. A black uniform is worn by all. No one can have their own possessions. Angka, the ruler of the Khmer Rouge, is their new family. Thinking too much is a disease. It is the Year Zero. All day long, the prisoners work in the rice fields, and at night they sit through indoctrination meetings.
Arn witnesses countless atrocities. People are literally starving to death. A girl sitting next to him dies at the table. Many are beaten to death, some with a small axe to the back of their heads. Arn sees people getting their insides sliced out with a bayonet and even a young boy chewing a human arm. The dead are tossed into growing dirt piles, some still partially alive. Arn is forced to push the dead into a ditch, to cook a human liver, to go along with the sexual advances of a young Khmer Rouge girl, and to play music to conceal the sound of all the killing. When the Vietnamese invade, Arn ends up fighting alongside the Khmer Rouge, committing some of the same violent acts that had only recently horrified him. Later, when Arn eventually makes his miraculous journey to the United States, he is faced with even more challenges as he confronts American bullies and tries to figure out the peculiarities of American culture.
How does Arn survive all this madness? Is he lucky? Is it because he seems to learn from each experience and adjust himself to each new situation? He figures out how to avoid the wrath of the Khmer Rouge by being invisible. He learns not to see and not to hear what is going on around him. He understands that "They fall down, they never get up. Over and over I tell my self one thing: never fall down." He hears his aunt's advice, "Be like the grass. Bend low, bend low, then bend lower. The wind blow one way, you blow that way. It blow the other way, you do, too. That is the way to survive." And, he discovers that being just a little bit "famous" can save his life - again and again.
His survival may also be the result of his ability to continue to find positives, to create new relationships and to care about others. He keeps that strength hidden ("You show nothing, maybe you live."), as he secretly shares his food, offers comfort to many, and even takes the blame for a few. He saves his music teacher, Mek's life, but understands the consequences of his actions. He says, "This guy, Mek, he decide to live because of what I say. Now, I know, it my job to keep him living." Patricia McCormick's telling of Arn's story not only highlights how far humans can stray from what is right, but it shows us that it is still possible for good to prevail.
2012, 224 pages
Determination, Ethnicity/Culture, Ethics, Good Book Club Selection, Historical Fiction, Life Challenges, War
• What are some tricks that Arn uses to survive?
• How does music help him?
• What does Arn's aunt mean when she tells him to "Be like the grass"?
• Were the Khmer Rouge soldiers bad people? Why were they so cruel?
• Why does Sombo keep an eye on Arn?
• What was the Khmer Rouge's objective when they took away possessions and forced everyone to dress the same?
• What do you think was the worst thing that Arn experienced?
• Does Arn turn into a monster himself after so much time with the Khmer Rouge?
• Do you think that something like this could happen in the United States?
• Why did Peter Pond bring Arn and the other Cambodian children home?
• Why was life in the United States such a difficult adjustment for Arn?
• How did Arn's relationships with Mek, Sombo, Kha and Siv help him?
• Would you have told on other prisoners? Why or why not?
• Is music important in your life? Does it help you get through difficult situations?
• Would you have been able to survive under the circumstances that Arn lived through?
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