Editor in Chief
Patricia McCormick visited the High School on Thursday, September 11th to speak to students of every grade about her book, Never Fall Down. This was the book selected as New Hope’s schoolwide summer reading book, as part of the ‘one-book-one-school’ initiative.
Never Fall Down is a true story about a Cambodian boy named Arn who experienced the tragedies and horrors that occurred when the Khmer Rouge were in power. The Khmer Rouge forced Arn’s entire village to flee, and after being forced to walk the countryside where many people died of exhaustion and starvation, they are imprisoned in work camps. Arn witnesses terrible acts of violence while in this camp, as well as the death of family members. It is a story of how he remains strong, creates relationships, and finds positivity in order to survive.
Mrs. Schwander introduced the author before she spoke, listing her many awards and achievements. McCormick was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2012, and Never Fall Down was awarded the NY Times Notable Book of 2012, as well as “Best Book of the Year” by Huffington Post and School Library Journal. Archbishop Desmond Tutu praised this book, saying that it was “one of the most inspiring and powerful books I’ve ever read”. She was also a New York Foundation of the Arts fellow in 2004, and a German Peace Prize winner for youth literature in 2009.
McCormick was a very engaging and informative speaker. She began by showing a video which described important events in Arn’s life and featured personal interviews with him. Then, after reading two brief passages from the book, she opened up to questions from the students.
Bailey Jaronski stepped up to ask the first question, asking how the author originally met Arn. McCormick answered that she lived in a small apartment building in New York at the the time, and one of her neighbors suggested Arn’s story for her next book and introduced her to him. “At first I was very cautious” she said, “in that I didn’t know this man, I didn’t know how traumatized her was, I didn’t know how much he had suffered.” In telling his story, Arn’s memory was fragmented, and he would frequently jump around to different points. She decided to take on the writing of his story because she realized that she needed someone to help him put his story in order. She came to have a deep connection with Arn. He would become emotional telling his story, and after every session at least one of them would end up in tears.
Arn also took her to Cambodia, where they visited the locations described in the book. She met Sambo, who in the book is a Khmer Rouge soldier that did many terrible things but also helped to save a boy’s life. She says that he is a very complicated person, as he was only 17 when he became a Khmer Rouge. When she interviewed him he said that he did nothing wrong during his time as a Khmer Rouge. They believed that they were doing a good thing, because they were protecting their country from Western influence. Arn also still keeps in touch with Mek, who is like a second father to him. The two performed at Lincoln Center in New York together.
When asked what inspired her to become a writer, she said that she had a very turbulent childhood, and writing was her way of escaping the reality that she was in. She went into journalism at first, where she learned how to interview and work with deadlines, but eventually got back into fiction writing. She described the drafting process as being the hardest part of writing the book, but she took it one page at a time. The biggest decision was to write Arn’s voice in book, since it is not standard English, but ultimately she decided to write it that way because of its unique and sincere quality.
Another subject she talked about was the interview process. She said that sometimes she had to pull back, due to the intense emotional content of the story. Other time, it was necessary to ask Arn to go more in depth on certain topics, because he would sometimes try to skirt around events, particularly those that he felt guilt over. However, McCormick included all of the information he gave in the novel.McCormick’s most recent work was working with Malala Youszafsi in writing her memoir for young readers. She plans to continue with her passion for writing, and helping people tell their story. Never Fall Down was an intense and compelling read, and it was an honor to have her speak to our student body.