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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, 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...
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, 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."
2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature
At night in our town, it's music everywhere. Rich house. Poor house. Doesn't matter. Everyone has music. Radio. Record player. Eight-track cassette. Even the guys who pedal the rickshaw cycle, they tie a tiny radio to the handlebar and sing for the passenger. In my town, music is like air, always there.
All the men, all the ladies stroll the park to catch the newest song. Cambodian love song. French love song. American rock 'n' roll. Like the Beatle. Like Elvis. Like Chubby Checker. Ladies in sarong walk so soft like floating on the street. Men in trouser, hair slick back, smoking Lucky Strike. Old men playing card. Old lady selling mangoes, selling noodle, selling wristwatch. Kid flying kite, eating ice cream. The whole town is out at night. My little brother and me, we stand in front of the movie palace and sing for them. We do the twist also. "Let's Twist Again, Like We Did Last Summer." Two skinny kid, no shoe, torn pants, they like it if we sing for them; they even give us a few coin.
Tonight I study the crowd, find a lady - fat one, fat like milk fruit - and slowly, slowly, very sneaky, my brother and I, we hide behind her skirt, hold on so light she doesn't know, and pretend she's our mom. Kid with parent can see the movie for free. Kid like us, we pretend. Inside the movie palace we watch America, black and white, with airplane, shiny car, and women in skirt so short they show the knee. War movie, lotta shooting, and a little bit kissing. For the shooting, my brother and me, we clap; for the kissing, we hide our face in our shirt.
After the show, it's the best part - when we do the movie ourselves. Outside in the park, we fly the plane, shoot the gun, be the hero. Just like the real soldier fighting right now in the jungle outside of our town. We shoot probably a hundred bullet, die a hundred time. Then we hear a whistle, and the sky far away flash white. The palm tree shiver, and the ground shake. And all of a sudden the war is real.
I grab my little brother hand and run and run till we get to a little pond near our house. We jump in, water up to our nose, and hide there. Where nothing bad can find us. Next day, the music is back and the war is gone. Sometime the war come close, but never into our city. Most of the fighting, the radio says, it's far away, in the jungle. Government soldiers, they fight for the prince. The bad guys, I don't know what they fighting for, but I do know the prince is a great man. A great man, with important friend like the widow of the young American president. And beautiful daughter I saw in the newspaper when she and the prince go to China. So pretty, I cut the picture for my wall.
I worry about those two in China. The Chinese eat bad smelling food. Where they gonna eat? How they gonna get home with all this fighting?
But one soldier at the market, high-ranking guy, he brag about the government fighters. He's a big, bull-neck man, this guy who says he know the prince. He says the war only gonna last one week.
He says the soldiers in the jungle, they not real soldiers. Only peasant in black pajama. Not even with real boot. Sandal made from old tire. We gonna win, he says. We gonna squish them like cockroach.
So I try not to worry about the prince and princess and worry instead about how I can make a little money. Sometime I sell ice cream. To sell, you have to have a bell. A small bell, it sound when you walk so people hear you coming. But poor kid like me, I buy a cheap one. Old bell for buffalo. Big. Not good sound. Like old gong around my neck.
At first nobody buy. Nobody buy my ice cream because I look like poor kid. So I eat all the ice cream before it melt. Make myself almost sick. I learn a lesson then: sell fast before the ice cream melt. Sell fast. Also, go far. All over town. I walk so much I know this town like my pocket.
A lot of time kid throw stone at me. Rich kid. Kid who go to real school, with desk and a hoop for basketball. Not like temple school for poor kid like me, where you have to do chore, serve the monk, then maybe get a little teaching. Rich kid, they make a face at me, throw stones. Sometime I run. Sometime I make a face at them, too. Then run.
But soon I learn another lesson: you want to sell, you sneak out from the temple and sell when those kid in school.
My number one big sister, Chantou, she find out I'm not at the temple; she get mad. Very mad. "Arn," she say to me, "you should be doing chore for the monk, learning the chant, doing schoolwork. Selling ice cream, that's low class."
I don't tell her the monk sometime are very mean. I don't tell her they make us work all the time and that temple is not like real school. I don't tell her they get angry, they hit and say, "You stupid boy."
Also, I don't tell her we are low class. She still think like the old days, when our family owned the opera. My dad the star, my mom also the star. In our house, big house on the main road, before the show it was all singer and musician staying with us, getting ready. Forty people, maybe. A show every Saturday. Packed. So crowded some people have to sit on the grass. Our family a little bit rich, a little bit famous.
Then my father has a motorcycle accident. Hit his head on the road. At the hospital he yell like it's still the opera, like still onstage. Then he die and my mom, she can't run the opera anymore. She try. But no leading man, no opera. So she has to go far away, to Phnom Penh, to sing and make a little money, and we live with our aunt. Me and my brother and four sister. My aunt, she have no kid, so she love us like her own, but not enough money. That why I go stay at the temple sometime, why I also try to make money on my own.
I don't say any of this to my sister. I let her say that it's low class what I'm doing.
I want money, but also I want to have fun. Maybe it's low class. But it's okay for me.
Sometime, I steal coconuts. Sometime, the lady next door, she let me pick the flower to sell. And sometime I play a game for money. You can say it's gambling. But maybe you can say it's sport, also. Doesn't matter. I give the head monk a little money so I can sneak out of the temple to play. You can say maybe I bribe him. Or you can say maybe I give him a little gift.
This game, it's easy for me. You draw a circle on the ground and put money there. You throw your shoe. You hit the money, you take it. I lose sometime, but most the time I win. I play not only with kid, I get so good, many time I play with the men, the cyclo driver. I tease them. I say, "You so fat, you can't see over your belly, man," and they get mad and they throw the shoe like crazy and I win. No other little kid has money like me. This mean I can buy things for my family. Good food. Grill banana. Coconut cake. Mung bean pudding. Always I give the best thing to Munny, my little brother. Palm sugar, very sweet, wrap in palm tree leaf. But one time when I give a treat to my aunt and my sister, they cry. I don't know what's going on with them. I say, "Why you cry?"
They ask where I got this money. "A little boy like you, how you get so much money?" They keep pinching me, pinching me and say maybe I steal it. I tell them the truth, that I win it. But they don't believe.
They go see the head monk. They take me, too, pinching my ear all down the street. "Arn got a lot of money," they say. "Where he got it from?"
The monk shake his head like this is very sad news for him. He tell them the truth, about the shoe game. And he says, "Arn try to give me some money too, but I don't take it."
I rub my ear and think: next time, no money for that guy.
In our town is a tree that make hard little seed ball. Buffalo toe tree. You shake it, the seed, they fall on the sidewalk. You cut down a reed, you stick the seed inside, you make a blow gun.
My little brother, he says tonight he's gonna shoot our sister in the butt for telling our aunt we sneak in the movie. This sister, Sophea, she's in the middle of us. Younger than me. Older than him. Our favorite for shooting at. Also she swear and says curse word when we hit her, and our aunt get mad at her instead of us.
I hug this tree, shake it hard and hear, far off, sound like thunder. I look at the cloud and wait for rain to fall like curtain, for the umbrella to pop up like mushroom. For the hot season to end and the rainy time to start.
But no rain is coming. Only truck.
All kinda truck. Mostly jeep and tank, but also Coca-Cola truck and bus and garbage truck. All full of soldiers. Young guys. Dark skin and tough, all in black. Black pajama, black cap. Only with red and white scarf tied around the head.
Most are kid, teenagers. Some of them only a little bit older than me. Kid with sandal made from car tire. Kid with gun. And lotta bullet across the chest. And pistol. And grenade. Some soldier are even girl. Girl with short hair, angry face.
Now people coming out of all the house. Cheering, waving white flag. Handkerchief, bed sheet maybe, scarf, everything white. They run up to the truck and try to touch the soldier.
Next to me, a guy in blue jean, hair and sideburns like Elvis, he wave at the truck. I ask him what's going on. He says the war is over.
Up and down the street people cheer and yell and wave the flag. One guy, a cook, he wave a big spoon, also his apron. The guy who cut the hair, he shake a white towel. One old lady, no teeth, pink gum like a baby, she try to kiss one soldier.
Horn honking. Little kid, they run around in circles. Dog, even, they chase their tail. So I run around, losing myself, too. I don't know who are these guy with gun 11 and truck, but I don't care. No more war. Maybe now the princess can come home.
All quiet now. The parade is finish, and all the people inside making food. On the radio it says, "Give the soldiers whatever you can. Show that you support them." Everyone inside now, except me. Near our house is a school, a rich-kid school, the one with the basketball game. Sometime I lean against the wall, look in the window and try to learn like the other kid. The letter. The number. Sometime the teacher, he says scram, and I act like I don't care, like maybe I'm just passing by. But today is no school, so I kick the soccer ball in the yard. At the corner, five black-pajama soldier stand, smoking cigarette, on a lookout. They're young, these guys, so I say, "Wanna play?"
They take the ball like they don't know what to do. They kick like they never saw this game before and I think maybe I can make a little money off them. But also they play with a frown face, no fun, always keeping the gun on the shoulder, so I think maybe not such a good idea to gamble with these guys after all.
One soldier, the biggest one, he see a kid come by on a motorcycle, and he yell at this kid to stop. He walk to the road to talk to the kid and I go too.
He tell the kid, "Give me a turn on your moto."
You can't do that. You can't just ask someone to ride his moto. So the kid says, "No, I have to go home." No warning, the soldier, he hit the kid in the head with the rifle. And the kid, he sag to the ground, like his leg go dead, and then fall in the curb. He twitch, and bubble come from his mouth. Then he stop moving. I run away, very scared, very fast. I tell my aunt about this, but she doesn't believe me. She give me an orange and says to go celebrate like everyone else. But I keep that soldier in my mind.
Next day, early in the morning, no temple gong for waking up, no monk chanting. Strange sound. Voice like machine and very loud. Truck full of soldier ride down the street. Shouting in a bullhorn. "We are Khmer Rouge," they say. "We are Red Cambodia." Also, they say the prince is coming back, that all government soldier should come meet him at the airport. "All soldier of this town," they say. "Come join us." And the government soldier, they come out of the house one by one, wearing the uniform in green. Uniform, hat, boot. Even white glove, some of them. Medal also. Very fancy. Very proud. And they join the young guy in the black pajama.
One government soldier, old guy, very high ranking, living in a big house, his wife grab his sleeve so tight, he almost can't go. Another soldier's wife, young, pregnant, she wave a white handkerchief and cry a little bit. I look for the bull-neck guy, the one who says he know the prince, but no sign of him.
Excerpted from Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick. Copyright © 2012 by Patricia McCormick. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
I agree with all the other reviewers- this book was simply amazing! I could not put it down at all. I thought this book would be just another boring survival story, but the author writes fabulously, and the character's story is inspiring. Before I read this book, the only evacuations of certain races/ethnic groups/social classes I knew of was of the Cherokee Indians, the Jews, and the Gypsies. I had no clue what the Khmer Rouge was, but I found them to be even more terrifying than the Nazi. In this book, a young boy named Arn's life was forever changed when his family was evacuated from their home in Cambodia due to the Khmer Rouge, a Communist party that attempted to enforce social equality by getting rid of everyone's belongings and killing upper-class people. Other things the Khmer Rouge did was kill people, even babies, with axes, kill their own members, rape the women of the community, and basically kill anyone for anything. Arn himself lost his mother, two of his sisters, and his baby brother. He was raped, threatened, forced to bury dead bodies of campers, to abandon his dying little sister, and to join the Khmer Rouge army, where he witnessed a woman cut in half, a girl having her leg blown off by a bomb, and much more. As time went on, Arn changed from a innocent young boy into a confused, heartless monster. He accepted his sister's death, broke out in violent fights, killed people, and killed monkeys. There was definitely a loss of innocence. Two things that affected me about this book was 1: it was a true story about someone named Arn Chorn-Pond, and two, that this was allowed to happen. Usually the U.S. finds a way to get involved in this kind of stuff (Holocaust, Vietnam War, Berlin Wall, etc). I'm wondering if it was because were unaware, didn't know how to find these prisoner camps, or just didn't care.
12 out of 18 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 4, 2012
Posted July 29, 2012
This book is by far the best book I have ever read. I could not put it down. I won't spoil the story for you, but I would recommend this to anyone- teenagers, pre teens, adults, everyone- in a heartbeat! You will not be disappointed by this inspirational recap about the life of Arn Chorn-Pond. Please read this book. Everyone.
7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 24, 2012
Through the eyes and memories of an older child/adolescent, we gain a view of daily life in Cambodia decades ago and grippingly, into the unfolding drama of that life taken over by the Khmer Rouge. The author hypes nothing. Rather, retaining an immigrant's pattern of broken, spoken English which adds a sense a validity throughout, she allows the character to walk us through the drama. We encounter each situation, each decision with Arn, without the benefit of anything more than he would have known. Progressing from childhood to young adulthood is always complicated, but navigating that passage within in this tumult grabs both the heart and imagination. Most surprising to this reviewer were his encounters with western culture. I teach many newly-immigrated adolescents. All of them came to my mind as I pondered how difficult the transition may have been for them. I have not stopped recommending this book since I purchased it a few months ago.
7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 15, 2013
I just finished this book yesterday and it was incredible. Not only did it teach me about something I have never heard of before, it also made me appreciate the life I have been given. It is such a well told story and you feel like you know the characters.
She is such an amazing author and this young man tells an incredibly moving story. All together it is an amazing and powerful book that will change your outlook on life.
Easily 5 Stars.
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 12, 2012
When the genocide was in the news and I wondered why we went to war in Vietnam but did not stop the Kmer rouge. I still have no answer and no answer as to why but my faith in the ability of ordinary humans to love and even triumph in the face of such astounding adversity has been restored. Written with the voice of Arn this book whispers to your heart. At the end you will understand what it means to have a tiger growling in your chest. I challenge you to read this.
5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 22, 2013
This book has to be the best book I've read! I love how Patricia McCormick wrote the story how the main character would actually talk. This book was VERY descriptive, leaving it possible to picture everything that this little boy goes through. Never Fall Down definitely shows how cruel people can be and some parts were even hard to read, but it all falls together in the end.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 4, 2013
Posted March 1, 2013
Posted December 16, 2012
Posted August 15, 2012
"Never Fall Down" is a book that is exceptionally written in
the young, melodious voice of Arn Chorn-Pond as he relates growing up
under and surviving the rule of the Khmer Rouge. In parts, the horrors
he had to endure make the story impossible to read yet even more
impossible to stop reading. This is a tale that must be told, must be
heard. It is a beautiful story of self-redemption and hope.
3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 12, 2012
Posted September 17, 2013
Posted April 2, 2013
Difficult book to read because of the content but a book that is hard to put down.
I must have been to young to realize what was happening in Cambodia, I was concerned about our service men and women getting home.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 4, 2012
Posted May 27, 2014
Posted May 24, 2014
After reading all the reviews on this book, I had to read it. I knew the story was told by a little boy however what i didnt realize is that the book would be written in 3 word sentances and broken english. It at times makes it hard to read. I still plan on finishing the book because it is an amazing story.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 8, 2013
Posted August 16, 2013
Posted April 7, 2013
I knew what had happened, but this gave it a very personal perspective! It made me wonder if I would have been that smart, as well as lucky.
1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.