The story of an 11 year old experiencing genocide

A book review of “Never Fall Down: A Novel”

Patricia McCormick’s “Never Fall Down: A Novel” takes you through a real-life nightmare.

The book’s protagonist is Arn Chorn-Pond, an 11-year-old Cambodian boy. The story is a true one, as best as McCormick can make it based on research and in-person interviews. It’s written as a first-person novel from Arn’s perspective.

It’s 1975 Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge take over Arn’s country. From there, we experience through Arn’s broken English the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror.

We follow Arn as he’s forced into slave labor in rice fields by the Khmer Rouge. He encounters guards and victims and fellow child slaves. We learn how a child’s body reacts to starvation. We discover the sound a human skull makes when it’s cracked open by an ax.

We witness Arn’s resourcefulness, ambition, and endurance. We also watch his transition from fun-loving boy to a young man for whom the line between good and evil blurs.


The subject material of “Never Fall Down” is compelling. A child fighting to survive the Khmer Rouge needs no fictional flavor.

What makes this book noteworthy is McCormick nailing the voice of Arn. McCormick makes you believe a child is telling the story, not an accomplished author.

From the beginning, you get a sense of Arn’s personality. You develop a picture of who this kid is. And as the story unfolds, you see him change. This evolution comes through events he experiences, and through his growth into a teenager.

“Never Fall Down” is a quick read. The writing is short sentences of uncomplicated words. This is a story told by a child, after all. And young adults are the book’s intended audience.

If there’s a shortcoming of the book, it’s that the resolution feels rushed. I would like more details about what Arn’s experiencing in the final chapters of the book.

This personal preference aside, “Never Fall Down: A Novel” is a captivating tale. That it’s based on the true experiences of a child is all the more riveting. If you need convincing a society should avoid war and genocide, this book should move you closer to that acceptance.

It’s difficult to read this book now without considering possible parallels with current events. Will we one day read about the experiences of children trying to survive the Syrian civil war?

This piece was originally published on Get links to short stories, essays, and more via Nicolas’ monthly newsletter.