A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is the critically acclaimed memoir of Ishmael Beah, who was a child soldier during Sierra Leone's civil war. Orphaned at 12, Ishmael would walk through a war-ravaged countryside, often starving and always afraid, until at 13, he found refuge with government soldiers. Soldiers who would turn him into a killer. For the next three years, Ishmael would witness or take part in unimaginable acts of violence that are often graphically described in the book. Violent death is constant and pervasive, with countless men, women, children, and babies stabbed, shot, mutilated, or burned alive. One town he enters is described as having "air that smells of blood and burnt flesh." At 16, UNICEF workers gained his release and he was sent to a rehabilitation center for boy soldiers where he found a chance to rebuild his life. Beah would go on to finish his education in the United States and become UNICEF's Advocate for Children Affected by War. First published in 2007, A Long Way Gone was a New York Times best-seller. It has been translated into more than 40 languages and is sometimes assigned in school.
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What's the story?
As A LONG WAY GONE begins, Ishmael Beah is 12 and living with his mother and two brothers in a rural town in Sierra Leone, West Africa. He loves dancing, rap music, and Shakespeare and can recite monologues from Julius Caesar and Macbeth. The civil war that's gripping Sierra Leone still seems a long way off. But while he and his older brother are away, rebels attack the town, his family disappears, and the boys are left to fend for themselves. Traveling from village to village often "so hungry it hurts to drink water," they are separated during a rebel attack. Now alone, Ishmael wanders for weeks until meeting boys he knew from school. Joining forces, the boys look for somewhere, anywhere, they can feel safe. They think they've found it in a town controlled by government soldiers. That "safety" comes at a high price, as the boys are armed with AK-47s and turned into young but lethal killing machines. By 15, Ishmael's life has changed so radically that "my squad was my family, my gun was my provider and protector, and my rule was to kill or be killed." When a group of UNICEF workers arrive at his camp, Ishmael is chosen as one of the boys to be taken to a rehabilitation center that works with boy soldiers. At 16, his life begins anew as he struggles with an addiction to drugs, terrible nightmares, and the enormous challenge of learning to live a life that no longer revolves around killing or being killed.
Is it any good?
Harrowing, painfully honest, and haunting, this unforgettable memoir of a young boy whose teen years became a killing field is ultimately a story of hope and redemption. In A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah uses his own story to speak for the thousands of child soldiers whose stories will never be told. While originally published for adults, it's popular with teen readers and sometimes assigned in school.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the role rehabilitation and redemption play in A Long Way Gone. Do you think Ishmael was an exception, or do you believe anyone who has committed violent and terrible acts can become a new person?
Did your ideas about what war is like change after reading Ishmael's story? Do you think movies and TV shows glamorize what it's like to be a soldier?
What part do you think drugs played in turning schoolboys into killers?
- Author: Ishmael Beah
- Genre: Biography
- Topics: Book Characters, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books
- Publication date: February 15, 2007
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 229
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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