Never Fall Down

Never Fall Down

by Patricia McCormick


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This National Book Award nominee from two-time finalist Patricia McCormick is the unforgettable story of Arn Chorn-Pond, who defied the odds to survive the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979 and the labor camps of the Khmer Rouge.

Based on the true story of Cambodian advocate Arn Chorn-Pond, and authentically told from his point of view as a young boy, this is an achingly raw and powerful historical novel about a child of war who becomes a man of peace. It includes an author's note and acknowledgments from Arn Chorn-Pond himself.

When soldiers arrive in his hometown, Arn is just a normal little boy. 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 dying before his eyes. 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.

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, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier.

Supports the Common Core State Standards.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061730955
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/23/2013
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 50,698
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Patricia McCormick is a former journalist and a two-time National Book Award finalist whose books include Cut, Sold, Never Fall Down, The Plot to Kill Hitler, Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero, and the young readers edition of I Am Malala. Patricia lives in New York. You can visit her online at

Read an Excerpt

Never Fall Down

By Patricia McCormick

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2012 Patricia McCormick
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1



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.

What People are Saying About This

Desmond Tutu

“One of the most inspiring and powerful books I’ve ever read. Never Fall Down can teach us all about finding the courage to speak our truth and change the world.”

Loung Ung

“Arn Chorn Pond is a fast-talking dynamo with endless energy and zest for life. In Never Fall Down, Patricia McCormick captures brilliantly the man, his heart, and his passion to make Cambodia and our world a better place for all. Arn’s against-all-odds survival story and McCormick’s crisp prose gripped me from the first page to the very end.”

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Never Fall Down: A Novel 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 65 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
MariahElizabeth More than 1 year ago
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.
Mattie604 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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. -Destiny
-BNB- More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful story. Very sad, very raw, and very important.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Poignant and based on a true story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this book!!!!!!!!!!! I nevr thought i would like this genra until i gave it a chance great book i recomend to anyone
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A disturbing yet important account of life in Cambodia
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Shocking, graphic, and a statement about the resiliant human spirit.
ewyatt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Arn's story (based on Arn Chorn-Pond's life story) of enduring the Cambodia Killing Fields, the Khmer Rouge, and the invasion of the Vietnamese as a young teen. McCormick uses a syntax for her narrator which is clearly someone who has English as a second language. A heart-wrenching read where the violence and brutality overwhelmed me as the reader at times. I had to take the book slow and in small doses. A really powerful, well constructed story that made me think about war, survival, healing, and the nature of humanity. For the older segment of the population at the school I serve.
lilibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Based on a true story, a young boy tells how at the age of 11 his family and village were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge and of the terrible things he had to do in order to survive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A survivor's tale of a boy who lost everyone during the Cambodian genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Immediately ordered another book by this author
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the story of a boy trying to survive horrendous circumstances. It was interesting how he changed from victim to victimizer in order to survive, and even more interesting aware he was of what was happening. I liked the style choices made by the author to keep an authentic voice for the boy.
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Sue5 More than 1 year ago
139 pages of a child surviving the Cambodian "Killing Fields". I couldn't put this down.