Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

It surprised me to see Patricia McCormick's name as a finalist for this year's National Book Award. I missed this book when it came out earlier this year so I was excited to read it. Patricia McCormick books tackle tough and unusual YA topics so something new from her always piques my interest. I loved Purple Heart and here she is with another war story.

Never Fall Down takes place in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields in the late 1970s. The book is based on the experience of Arn Chorn-Pond who narrates the story. (See video below.)

In the Hunger Games kids are forced to kill kids for survival, but here in this book we have a real historical event of children forced to join an army. The only chance for survival is to join the Khmer Rouge where they are used as bait to flush out the Vietnamese. It's horrifying, brutal, and graphic. Arn reflects on how quickly he learns to adjust to the constant death, the constant threat of death, and witnessing and assisting the death of others. One boy accidentally shoots himself with his new gun and stands there, shocked, trying to put his guts back into his body as he is dying. Arn holds the boy as he dies and becomes covered in his blood.
I think maybe I should wash it, get rid of it. But I think maybe it can protect me, this boy's blood on my body, so I paint myself with it--wipe it on my face, my throat, my arms. I take his gun also and strap it across my chest, two guns on me now.

I go see Phat, the Khmer Rouge boy who say I'm not real soldier. So he can see what I am now. (p 122-123)

Since this is Arn's story, the novel ends better than I expected had it not been a true story. There a few moments of humor, particularly at the end when Arn gets a Star War comic and learns the phrase, "Let the force be with you!"

The end of the book includes an epilogue, author's note, and acknowledgements. Then National Book Awards Ceremony is November 14.


Patti said...

so did you wonder why hewas telling his story in broken english at first?

joanna said...

no. Wasn't he doing that throughout the whole book?

Patti said...

Yeah, that was my problem. I was really stuck on why this person was telling me his story in broken english. I had orignally assumed he was telling us his story in his native tongue (magically translated) and couldn't understand why he wasn't speaking fluently. It really irritated me.

I think that if the author's note had been at the beginning I wouldn't have had any issues at all, because I would have known it was written when he was older.

joanna said...

I didn't have a problem with it. I had wondered if that was what you were talking about when it came up earlier. I guess I knew that he was telling the story to her, that McCormick wrote it almost exactly as he spoke it, so the author's note in the back didn't matter much.

Patti said...

I need to re-read it. I don't know that I'll get around to it though. I fear my Mock Printz motivation is a little down this year.

joanna said...

I only thoroughly re-read a few books. It is a lot of work. Usually, though, your first impressions are pretty good. When is your meeting date?