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by Patricia McCormick


School Library Journal:

/* Starred Review */ Gr 8 Up— With unflinching candor, an authentic voice, and an indomitable will to survive, Cambodian human-rights activist Arn Chorn Pond narrates the remarkable story of his survival during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror and genocide. McCormick has blended his personal recollections with extensive interviews, historical research, and her own imagination to create a powerful, intimate novel. In 1975, 11-year-old Arn lives an impoverished but inventive life with his aunt and siblings. His father has died and his mother can no longer run the family-owned opera house. After the Khmer Rouge soldiers arrive in his town, everyone is ordered to agricultural labor camps. Separated from his family, Arn witnesses the brutality and sadism of the “black pajama” soldiers, the exhaustion and starvation of his companions, and the horrific Killing Fields massacres. When the soldiers ask for musicians, Arn volunteers. Although he has never played, his natural talent quickly emerges and he becomes a popular khim player, ensuring his survival. With the 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, the Khmer soldiers abandon his camp and he flees with thousands across the border into Thailand. Rescued by peace activist Peter L. Pond, Arn and other orphans come to America where Arn eventually channels his traumatic past into helping other refugees and preserving traditional Cambodian arts and music. Once again, McCormick has delivered a heartrending exposé of human tragedy. The natural syntax and grammar of Arn’s narration imbues his story with a stunning simplicity and clarity against a backdrop of political chaos, terror, and death. This compelling story will awaken compassion and activism in secondary readers.—Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, Durham, NC –Gerry Larson (Reviewed May 1, 2012) (School Library Journal, vol 58, issue 05, p112)


  • Booklist Editors’ Choice – Books for Youth – Older Readers Category: 2012
  • Conflicted: Life During Wartime (2014)
  • School Library Journal Best Books: 2012
  • YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults: 2013



10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade, Biography, Khmer Rouge, Loss, Refugee Camp, Teen