First They Killed My Father is the story of Loung Ung's childhood in Cambodia under the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge. The story is narrated by Ung, a child living with her family in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. Ung's family is forced out of their home in Phnom Penh and into a series of hellish work camps throughout the Cambodian country side. Given meager rations, forced to work continuously and subject to seemingly random executions, Ung’s family quickly deteriorates.
This is a compelling book. The short chapter lengths and the writing style, intended to be from the perspective of a young girl, also make it easily accessible for middle and high school students. I plan on using at least one chapter in class to give my students an understanding of how US actions during and after the Vietnam War had widespread, indirect consequences. Two passages are especially notable - "Pa: December 1976" (pg. 102-108), describing Ung’s father's execution after being 'found out' by the Khmer Rouge and "Leaving Home: May 1977" (pg. 120-128), describing the family's decision to split up after a series of full-family executions.
Despite being a great read, keep in mind that some editing of First the Killed My Father might be required for younger readers (the narrator talks frequently and graphically about death). Additionally, background explanation about the Khamer Rouge and Cambodian history in the 1970s will be necessary for students to fully appreciate the story.