“Hour and hour of marching and still I don’t see my aunt. Along the road, lotta people dropped. Lotta shoe, all with no match. Also more bodies now all the time. Some just die while they walking. Some with blood on the shirt, from the bullet or maybe the knife at the front of the Khmer Rouge gun, I think," excerpted from Never Fall Down.
Arn Chorn Pond was only 11 when he was torn away from everything that was familiar to a young boy—rock and roll and selling ice cream with his brother—and forced to trudge miles to a labor camp, where he worked for relentless hours with no food under the watchful eyes of Khmer Rouge soldiers with big guns. It’s not something a lot of suburban teens can relate to, yet it resonates as a story of hope and the ability of the human spirit to recover from great tragedy.
In 1975, Cambodia was taken over by the Communist Khmer Rouge, who forced approximately two million people into hard agricultural labor; banned everything from foreign clothing to public transportation to schooling and ordered people to disregard friends and family in favor of the great leader Angkar Padevat. Many people were killed by the Khmer Rouge or perished from untreated diseases, starvation or horrible working conditions.
Now an adult, Pond’s painful experience with the Khmer Rouge is finally being told by award-winning author Patricia McCormick in her new Young Adult book Never Fall Down. The book’s title presumably references the Khmer Rouge’s strict adherence to hard work: for those that were tired from forced labor, there would be no second chances once they collapsed.
McCormick will appear at the Voracious Reader in Larchmont tonight at 6:30 p.m. for a book reading and signing co-sponsored by the Westchester chapter of Room to Read, a nine-year-old global organization that works to build literacy and gender equality in education in Asia and Africa.
In writing the book, said McCormick, her background as a journalist helped in “making me really scrupulous about getting the details right.”
“If you’re a dancer and an author makes a factual error, you don’t trust anything else they say,” she said, by way of comparison.
In preparation for writing Never Fall Down, the author spent six months researching and reading Cambodian history and one month in Cambodia conducting interviews, including one with an actual Khmer Rogue soldier; his character, named Sambo, appears in the book as someone who helps Pond despite his role as a soldier.
Interestingly enough, the Khmer Rouge presence has not been fully erased in Cambodia.
“The Khmer Rogue are waiting to make a comeback—they are in armed isolation in an autonomous part of the country,” said McCormick, adding that the area is rich in natural resources like timber and sapphires.
Many of the kids that McCormick has spoken with tend to have a greater appreciation for the opportunities and freedoms they do have after reading Never Fall Down.
“When we read books like The Hunger Games, what would we do…what choices did he make to survive,” she said, continuing, “A lot of it has to do with surviving without bitterness…he remains kind and optimistic.”
Several of McCormick’s other books like Sold, My Brother’s Keeper, and Cut do not shy away from weighty themes, despite being geared toward an audience between 11-17.
Has she seen any resistance from parents in letting their child read her books?
“I’ve had parents question if it was ok for their child—it depends on age,” she said, continuing, “I don’t use graphic language or profanity.”
More importantly though, said McCormick, “A lot of kids are interested in global issues…it illuminates things they are curious about.”
For more information on the author please visit her website here.