Never Fall Down was one of those books that really makes you think. It's set in Cambodia beginning in 1975, a time of genocide and the rule of the harsh Khmer Rouge. Arn, the main character, is just a boy, living in the city with his aunt and siblings. All of that changes when the Khmer Rouge soldiers march in and order all of the citizens out. They mask this as a plan to save Arn's people - they say that the city is about to be attacked. The harsh reality is, though, that they are taking the people to work in camps as slaves, and to work on creating their perfect population.
Arn goes through awful things and learns to get by by following a few doctrines: he learns to be invisible to the Khmer Rouge by never drawing attention to himself and he learns to, as the title suggests, "never fall down." Those who fall down are shot.
While these two things help him along the way, Arn is ultimately saved because of his propensity to music. He begins to play in a band for the Khmer Rouge, playing their sacred songs, and this grants him good favor in the camp.
After liberation, Arn is rescued from a refugee camp and adopted by a family in America. This is the part that I found most interesting about the novel - McCormick showed Arn's euphoria at being adopted, but then his struggle to fit in, his survivor's guilt, and his feelings of concern for those who weren't adopted. He called all of these feelings the "tiger in his heart". Eventually, all of these feelings are evened out when he begins to speak about his experiences.
I loved this book and think lots of my male students will, too. It does have some cursing and inappropriate scenes. It's also written in dialect, which is often frustrating for my students.
Also Try: Warriors in the Crossfire, by Nancy Bo Flood; A Hare in the Elephant's Trunk, by Jan Coates; A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park; and Boys Without Names, by Kashmira Sheth