“Never Fall Down” by Patricia McCormick (2012) (229 pgs) is a young adult novel based on the life of Arn Chorn-Pond, a Cambodian who was taken from his family in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge, a radical communist regime, gained power. The reader follows Arn as he and other children suffer deprivation, neglect, and abuse in the work camps. Arn witnesses the massacre of many, and through luck and music he learns to survive. But eventually he is forced to become a child soldier and fight for the regime that has decimated his people.
After being abandoned, Arn finds his way to a refugee camp, and with the help of an American benefactor, recovers and eventually is adopted by his benefactor, Peter Pond. But Arn still struggles with his past. After a violent outburst that threatens his future, Arn is forced to confront who he was and take responsibility for who he will become. Arn eventually becomes a peace activist and a spokesperson for the plight of Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge and makes his way toward healing.
This book paints a grim, horrifying, but authentic picture of life and death under the Khmer Rouge. Hearing from a child “on-the-ground” about the fighting and other horrors is brutal but powerful.
Arn’s story offers a meaningful springboard for a more extensive investigation of a variety of human rights and political issues.