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*Starred Review* McCormick, the acclaimed author of Sold (2006) and Purple Heart (2009), has now written a novel based on the life of Cambodian peace advocate Arn Chorn-Pond. The story begins with an 11-year-old Arn in 1975 in Battambang, Cambodia. The war between the government forces and the Khmer Rouge is remote until the day the Khmer Rouge arrive in his town and, taking all the children captive, march them into the countryside, where they become, essentially, slave laborers. Arn survives the killing fields through a combination of luck and musical ability. But his life changes again when Vietnamese forces invade Cambodia and, overnight, the boy is forced to become a Khmer Rouge soldier. He will eventually escape to Thailand and then to the U.S., but the four years of genocide in between are an unspeakable experience of suffering, torture, and death. This is not an easy book to read, as it unveils the truth about one of the most hideous examples of inhumanity in the twentieth or any other century. McCormick has done a remarkable job of creating an authentic first-person voice for Arn and using it to lay bare his almost unimaginable experiences of horror. The resulting book is powerfully, hauntingly unforgettable. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Significant media outreach will ensure that this book gets crossover attention from both teens and adults, who will be eager to see what's next from this National Book Award finalist.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2010 Booklist


Publishers Weekly
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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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.