38 pages 1 hour read

Patricia McCormick

Never Fall Down

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide


The 2012 novel Never Fall Down is based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, an eleven-year-old Cambodian boy who is taken from his town and becomes a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge, a radical Communist regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979.

Arn’s journey takes him from his hometown of Battambang, Cambodia, through four years of forced labor and fighting for the Khmer Rouge as a child soldier, to a refugee camp in Thailand, and, finally, to his new home in the United States.

Arn is the fourth of six children, raised by their aunt after their father dies and the family falls into financial difficulty. His best friend is a Chinese boy named Hong. As Arn is moved from one labor camp to another, he loses track of most of his family members and assumes they are dead. Hong’s family leaves the country, knowing that the Khmer Rouge execute foreigners.

Arn makes friends in the camp with two boys in his music ensemble, Kha and Siv, and his music teacher Mek, who becomes a father figure to him. He also befriends Sombo, a Khmer Rouge soldier not much older than him who works as a guard at the camp. During the war, Arn is separated from Kha and Siv. Sombo, the leader of their child soldier detachment, eventually deserts them. In the refugee camp in Thailand, Arn makes friends with another former child soldier called Runty and two boys, Sojeat and Ravi, who become his adopted brothers when an American aid worker, Peter Pond, decides to rescue the boys and take them to the U.S.

Along the way, Arn learns the grim reality of survival in a world where death, starvation and brutality are the norm. As a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge, he both witnesses and commits atrocities. As a refugee in Thailand and an adoptee in the United States, Arn begins a journey of healing, forgiveness and finding a purpose in his life.

Throughout his struggles, Arn’s quick wit and endearing personality shine through. He loves music and is quick to help others. He is street smart, competitive, and a natural performer. During and after his time with the Khmer Rouge, Arn fights to restore his humanity and eventually finds it as an international speaker and human rights activist for victims of the Cambodia Genocide. After many years, Arn reunites with some of his family and friends who survived the genocide.

The author, Patricia McCormick, writes Arn’s story in vernacular English to convey the immediacy of Arn’s experiences. In her Author’s Note, McCormick writes that imposing the rules of grammar on Arn’s story made it feel artificial. When Arn described his emotional story to her, she writes, his careful English would give way and he would recount the events as he experienced them as a boy.

In her Author’s Note McCormick also discusses why she decided to write the story as a novel rather than a work of nonfiction. McCormick says that like many survivors of trauma, Arn could recall some events in great detail while some were a blur. After two years of in-depth interviews with Arn and the other individuals whose stories feature in the book, McCormick decided to fill in the gaps with her own imagination in order to bring the people and events in Arn’s experiences to life.