McCormick (Purple Heart) again tackles a horrifying subject with grace while unsentimentally portraying the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia’s killing fields. Not unlike Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water, this novel is based on a real person, Arn Chorn Pond, who was 11 years old at the time of the country’s Communist revolution. Arn’s narration balances a palpable and constant sense of fear, starvation, and humiliation with his will to survive. Doing so involves great moral compromises, bravery, and a capacity for love and friendship despite the nightmarish circumstances. McCormick divides the narrative into five periods: life before the revolution; in the camps, where Arn learns to play the music (which is used to disguise the noise of regular executions); his induction into the Khmer Rouge; his time in a refugee camp; and, finally, his transition to America. On how to survive, Arn observes, “You show you care, you die. You show fear, you die. You show nothing, maybe you live.” While never shying from the ugliness and brutality of this genocide, McCormick crafts a powerful tribute to the human spirit. Ages 14–up. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/26/2012 Release date: 05/01/2012 Genre: Children's
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