Monday, November 4, 2013

Review: Never Fall Down

Never Fall Down
By Patricia McCormick
Published 2012 by Balzer + Bray

Arn was just a kid when the soldiers marched into his Cambodian village and changed his life forever. He is taken to the countryside, separated from his family, and forced to work in a labor camp. A quick decision and a small lie will help Arn's chances of survival but no matter what, he'll never be the same.

I don't really read a lot of books about war. It sounds weird to say it, but it just doesn't really interest me. However, this book received a ton of acclaim and the fact that it was inspired by a true story interested me. I decided it would be one of the books I'd read for The Hub Reading Challenge. I'm glad I did.

It also seems odd to say this about such a depressing story, but this book enchanted me. From the first sentence, I was completely sucked into Arn's story, wanting and needing to know what would happen next, how would Arn survive, how would it all end. The simple and straightforward way it was told helped to create this spell, pulling me so completely into the narrative. I read this book in just a few hours, devouring it as quickly as I could.

Arn's voice is believable and heartbreaking. I admit, I was a bit hesitant to read this kind of narrative - the real Arn's voice through Patricia McCormick. I wondered if it would really work, or if I would be able to spot any intrusion of McCormick's own voice in the story. The story really does seem to be told as Arn himself would tell it - at least in my limited understanding of Arn the real person. Though he does speak English now, he is not a native speaker, and that is reflected in the narrative here. I think that is part of what makes this book such a compelling read. Clipped, direct speech. Short sentences. A fair amount of dialogue. All things that keep the action and story moving along at a relatively fast pace. I did not spot any instances of McCormick's own voice intruding on the story. That doesn't mean that they may not exist, just that I didn't find them in my own reading of the book.

I also freely admit my extremely limited knowledge of Cambodian history and the Killing Fields. Perhaps this helped make the story more interesting for me. Even if I've forgotten a lot of my history classes, I still remember the big stuff, the stuff that a lot of books about WWI or WWII will touch upon. Not knowing much about this tragedy made everything about the story new for me.

And this is a tragedy. Arn's story broke me, though there is hope among the awfulness. I definitely cried while reading this book and I think it's an important story for teens to see. I highly recommend this.

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