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.