Patricia McCormick’s Never Fall Down is the haunting story of the Cambodian Genocide as told from the perspective of Arn, an 11-year-old boy who’s taken from his home and forced to work in the rice fields for the Khmer Rouge. There, Arn volunteers for a band and discovers his affinity for music. The decision saves his life, but it also thrusts him into the middle of Killing Fields, where he’s forced to commit atrocities.
Based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, Never Fall Down was recently named a National Book Award finalist. The winners won’t be announced until November, but McCormick took the time to talk to EW about the nomination, her interviews with the real Arn, and the power of a simple song.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats! You’re a National Book Award finalist. You’ve been one before for Sold, but how does it feel this time around?
PATRICIA McCORMICK: It’s meaningful for this book because it needs that seal of approval for some more cautious readers, people who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in reading a book like this. It validates storytelling as a way of healing. This is all about how Arn healed by revealing the worst things about his past. We all have these stories to tell and by telling them we will free ourselves.
Was it difficult to get Arn to share his story?
Yes and no. He would become that 11-year-old all over again. He would jump away sometimes from the more difficult aspects of it. My job was to lead him back without re-traumatizing him. There were days when the two of us would cry and have to call it quits. There were other times where I would have to stand firm as the witness and show that I could listen to what he was telling me.