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Never Fall Down
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that while Never Fall Down is a novel, it documents a young boy's personal experience of -- and participation in -- one of the worst genocides in history. Patricia McCormick's fictional "autobiography" of Cambodian human rights activist Arn Chorn-Pond, who was 11 when the Khmer Rouge took over his country -- and proceeded to massacre about a fourth of its population between 1975 and 1979 -- is a powerful tale of the triumph of the human spirit. Separated from his family, Arn personally witnesses shootings, stabbings, ax blows to the head, and innumerable dead bodies. He also sees a starving 5-year-old gnawing on a dead body, until the child is taken off and killed. Arn is sexually abused (no detail is given), and girls are commonly raped (not shown). There's frequent use of "s--t," in its literal sense, to describe starvation-induced diarrhea in the work and refugee camps.
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What's the story?
Arn is a carefree 11-year-old kid, hustling money from the tourists with his younger brother and having good times in the city, when the Khmer Rouge take over his native Cambodia. Soon separated from his family, Arn learns to turn off the horrors around him and seize whatever opportunity he gets to survive -- the phrase \"never fall down\" comes from his quick discovery that anyone who does meets a quick death. Early on, Arn finds a way to survive by playing propaganda songs for the soldiers and workers -- music, he later learns, that's being used to drown out the sounds of mass killing. NEVER FALL DOWN is based on the real experiences of human rights activist Arn Chorn Pond, who now works to restore traditional music in Cambodia.
Is it any good?
Never Fall Down is a powerful, compelling story whose subject matter is both horrific and inspiring, since the narrator survived and went on to have a good life and do good things. Still, it may be too intense for some readers, as it takes place in a world in which deadly violence is an almost casual occurrence.
Author Patricia McCormick elected to tell the story in the broken English of the child narrator, Arn, which is at once effective and somewhat distracting.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Arn's aunt's advice: "Do whatever they say. Be like the grass. Bend low, bend low, then bend lower." In a world in which powerful people can kill you for any reason, is this good advice? Does it damage the person who takes it, even when they survive?
What do you know about life in Cambodia today and how the country has recovered from this chapter of its history?
Why do you think some people in Never Fall Down did some of the best and some of the worst things -- like the man who saved Arn's life several times but didn't hesitate to murder a baby?
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