Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick #Review

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick book coverNever Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
Released: May, 2012
Balzer + Bray
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Based on the true story of Cambodian advocate Arn Chorn-Pond, and authentically told from his point of view as a young boy, this is an achingly raw and powerful historical novel about a child of war who becomes a man of peace. When soldiers arrive in his hometown, Arn is just a normal little boy. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever.Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children dying before his eyes. One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn’s never played a note in his life, but he volunteers.This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier.

My Thoughts

I read Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick for very superficial reasons: 1. it was on sale the day I purchased it and 2. it was the shortest novel I owned, and I wanted a “quick read” to get myself out of my reading slump. I don’t think I even paid much attention to the blurb the day that I bought it other than it took place in Cambodia and something about the “main character”, Arn, dancing to Elvis Presley and hustling adults to bring home extra coin to his family. I mistakenly thought this was going to be a coming-of-age novel. Perhaps my obliviousness was a blessing because had I realized this book took place in Cambodia during the 1970s, I might not have picked it up on New Year’s Eve.

I only vaguely knew about Cambodia during the 1970s– the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. It’s not something that I ever learned about in school though. All of my world history classes– high school and college– were western centric, so if America or the UK or the Soviet Union were not involved, we didn’t touch the subject– not even when 25% of a country’s population was annihilated by corrupt leaders.

Never Fall Down is based on the (true) story of Arn Chorn-Pond, who, during 1975 and 1979, survived the genocide of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge labor camps, and the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. This book is listed as “young adult”, but every page is filled with sights, scents, and sounds of death. Everyday, the Khmer Rouge kill people who are too educated, too rich, or too supportive of the old ways. The labor camps turn into killing fields and mass graves for over two million Cambodians, but Arn Chorn-Pond survives the fields because he volunteers to learn an instrument to play the patriotic songs of the new government and he learns to manipulate the members of the new regime. On the eve of Cambodian liberation, Arn Chorn-Pond is handed a gun and made to not only fight for the Khmer Rouge but for his own life as well.

I have one reservation about Never Fall Down though, and it’s not the grim content– it’s the narration. Patricia McCormick spent two years interviewing Arn Chorn-Pond and surviving family members to learn their story, and in an attempt to capture Arn’s “authentic” voice, McCormick decided to write the entire story in broken English. Unfortunately, not only did it make this story difficult to read, I found the voice to be more like a caricature than authentic. It just seems…tacky, and perhaps I am putting that lightly. It was so unappealing and unnecessary that it turned a four-star book into a three-star book.

Still, a book like Never Fall Down needs to be read. It’s a powerful story about a time in history that I think many of us are unfamiliar with. And that’s the thing about history– we read about it or experience it first hand and (hopefully) we learn and (hopefully) we don’t let history repeat itself.

Book Report: Timeless by Alexandra Monir


Timeless by Alexandra Monir
January 2011
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
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When tragedy strikes Michele Windsor’s world, she is forced to uproot her life and move across the country to New York City, to live with the wealthy, aristocratic grandparents she’s never met. In their old Fifth Avenue mansion filled with a century’s worth of family secrets, Michele discovers a diary that hurtles her back in time to the year 1910. There, in the midst of the glamorous Gilded Age, Michele meets the young man with striking blue eyes who has haunted her dreams all her life – a man she always wished was real, but never imagined could actually exist. And she finds herself falling for him, into an otherworldly, time-crossed romance.

Michele is soon leading a double life, struggling to balance her contemporary high school world with her escapes into the past. But when she stumbles upon a terrible discovery, she is propelled on a race through history to save the boy she loves – a quest that will determine the fate of both of their lives.

My Thoughts

Book hype can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it certainly draws attention to a book, and it can help drive sales. On the other hand, the more the book is built up, the farther it has to fall. Such was the case with Timeless by Alexandra Monir. I had high hopes for Timeless. Every review I read about the book seemed to rave about it. But, after I finished the book I was left scratching my head and wondering why. Now wait just a tick! This is already starting to sound like a negative review. I promise you, it’s not really. It’s just one of those books that made me wonder why there was all the hype.

As an individual who loves character development and character driven plot, Timeless left me feeling disappointed. All of the characters in this book read a little generic to me. Michele was alright as a protagonist because she wasn’t annoying, whiny, weak, or any other negative personality trait that really grates my nerves. But, she didn’t really stand out to me either. She wasn’t the kind of character I could relate to or empathize with. Unfortunately, I felt that way about most of the other characters in this book except for Lily, one of the Windsor ancestors Michele meets during a time travel episode. Even though Lily is essentially a caricature of a 1920s flapper girl, I couldn’t help fall in love with her boldness and her sass.

Then there is the issue of the romance. Michele has been having dreams of a handsome boy with astonishing blue eyes all her life. During one of her time travel episodes, she comes across him. This boy! He’s real! His name is Phillip Warren! And then they start a cross-time love affair. I mean that kind of literally since Michele’s presence causes Phillip to break off his engagement with another one of Michele’s ancestors. And then ever since, the Windsors have hated the Warrens. Way to go Michele. You’ve started at century long family feud. Anyway, I digress. I get the feeling that Michele falls in love with the idea of Phillip and not Phillip himself. I understand she’s been having dreams of him forever, but that’s all they really are– dreams. Throughout Michele’s time travel episodes, she probably has only spent literally 2 or 3 days total with Phillip. And yet, she professes her love to him! And he breaks off an engagement! I mean, if ever there were a case of insta-love, it’s present in Timeless. And, the whole time I’m wondering, if 100-year-old Phillip Warren were still alive in Michele’s time, with his wrinkles, grey hair, and liver spots, would she still love him? I mean, that’s the kind of thing you have to take in consideration when time travel is involved!

When Phillip and Michele weren’t professing their love to each other, they were writing and composing songs together. As a music lover, I should have appreciated this, but it just came across as really cheesy. Especially when the song lyrics were included in the book. Song lyrics out of context make me cringe. On the plus side, Alexandra Monir actually had these songs produced, and you can listen to them on her website. In this context, the songs are wonderful! Especially Bring the Colors Back. Monir’s vocals and the jazz band sound really capture the 1920s atmosphere. Unfortunately, this isn’t a review on Monir’s singing abilities.

The final aspect of the book that struck me as problematic was the time travel. Time travel is pretty neat, but I imagine it’s difficult to write about. There seemed to be a lot of inconsistencies in the time travel in Timeless. Michele has no control over her time travel episodes. All we know is that it involves a special key necklace and maybe an old Windsor relic (most of the time). Except for that one time when Michele suddenly hopped back in time when she was watching a Broadway show. Uh wut? But, then Monir tries to go scientific on her readers. One of Michele’s new, smart friends brings up Einstein’s theories of time travel as a way to justify her belief that Michele is actually traveling through time. But, it just doesn’t work for me as a reader. Because there is no scientific basis for Michele’s experience. A key necklace does not even have the physical properties to bend space-time, so don’t try to convince me that it does. Also, there are inconsistencies in the way Michele meddles with the past. At first, she has no problem stealing the heart of her great-great-great aunt’s fiance. But, she’s too afraid to tell her aunt from the 1940s that America wins WWII. She thinks if she spills the beans America will lose the war. Really? Telling one insignificant person that there is hope will ruin the world? But, boyfriend fiance-stealing is okay.

I’m sure by now you’re wondering why I stuck around for 304 pages. I thought the characters were alright, I hated the romance, and I pointed out all the inconsistencies in Monir’s time travel. But honestly, at the end of it all, I simply loved Monir’s writing. The descriptions were beautiful, and I could see the events unfold in my head. Even more, Monir’s accounts of America in the past were stunning. The atmosphere she created and the descriptions of new Ford Model Ts along side horse and carriages just struck a chord in me. It’s so evident that Monir put a lot of time and research into the eras she wrote about, and I whole-heartedly appreciate that as a reader. Also, Monir wrote about the Gilded Age. The only time I’ve read about the Gilded Age was in 10th grade, and I read about it in a school textbook. I found Monir’s inclusion of this time period to be absolutely fascinating!

Due to all of the inconsistencies, this book was mostly a miss for me. But, because of Monir’s beautiful writing and in-depth research I stuck around for the entire book. There were aspects of this book that were lackluster, but then there were aspects of this book that made the book hard to put down. I’m truly conflicted!

Won from Kathy @ I Am a Reader Not a Writer