I've had this book on my actual real TBR shelf for close to two years. My husband, who is on the local university's faculty, takes part in the "Life of the Mind" discussion groups for incoming freshman each August. Ishmael Beah's memoir of his years as a child soldier in Sierra Leone was the university's choice a couple of years ago. I don't know why I took so long to read this, but I'm really glad I finally did.
This is not a pleasant book, although Beah is an extremely likable narrator. Even when he is brutally killing innocent villagers, the reader knows that Beah is a gentle boy forced into a life of brutality over which he literally has no control. The story starts when Ishmael is about 12 years old, and his peaceful life in a rural village in Sierra Leone is suddenly altered forever when the rebels attack anyone and everyone in the countryside. Ishmael and a band of boys manage to evade the rebels for a couple of years by wandering from ransacked village to jungle to ransacked village, but eventually Ishmael is forced to become a boy soldier like so many others. His only goal is to kill those who killed his family, and to survive.
This is an absolutely heart-breaking book, not only because Ishmael tells his story with such honesty, but because there are still thousands and thousands of children throughout the world who are forced into being soldiers today. It's hard to imagine the devastation of the lives of these children, when we in the U.S. are concerned about if it is OK for our 14-year-olds to read Twilight or if a teacher was really justified in making a kid stay after school. We have no idea.
This book actually has a very happy ending—as happy as I think it can get. I wish the best for Ishmael Beah, and pray that he will stop being plagued by nightmares. And that his voice may save the lives of other children.
Other reviews of A Long Way Gone:
Book Lady's Blog
Books By Their Cover
Lost in Books
The Book Book