Thursday, April 28, 2011

Librarian's Pick of the Week: A Long Way Gone

Title: A Long Way Gone
Author: Ishmael Beah
Genre: Biography
Published: 2007
Age: 14+

I thought this week I'd recommend something a little more serious, and a lot more true.

Synopsis: "This gripping story by a children's-rights advocate recounts his experiences as a boy growing up in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, during one of the most brutal and violent civil wars in recent history. Beah, a boy equally thrilled by causing mischief as by memorizing passages from Shakespeare and dance moves from hip-hop videos, was a typical precocious 12-year-old. But rebel forces destroyed his childhood innocence when they hit his village, driving him to leave his home and travel the arid deserts and jungles of Africa. After several months of struggle, he was recruited by the national army, made a full soldier and learned to shoot an AK-47, and hated everyone who came up against the rebels. The first two thirds of his memoir are frightening: how easy it is for a normal boy to transform into someone as addicted to killing as he is to the cocaine that the army makes readily available. But an abrupt change occurred a few years later when agents from the United Nations pulled him out of the army and placed him in a rehabilitation center. Anger and hate slowly faded away, and readers see the first glimmers of Beah's work as an advocate. Told in a conversational, accessible style, this powerful record of war ends as a beacon to all teens experiencing violence around them by showing them that there are other ways to survive than by adding to the chaos."

Review: ""We went to work killing everyone in sight. We didn't waste a single bullet." The prose is flat, almost detached, as the writer speaks quietly of what he witnessed, and what he did, as a young teen soldier in Sierra Leone. It could be a kids' war game, but it was real. On the run in 1993 after the rebels ("freedom fighters") invaded his town and killed his parents, the 12-year-old sees massacre up close: heads chopped off, people burned alive. A year later, recruited by the army to get revenge ("think of it as . . . the highest service you can perform for your country "), always drugged, he becomes a perpetrator. At 15, he is rescued by a UN committee, which helps him slowly confront the trauma and begin to recover; then he is brought to the UN in New York to bear witness. A final note tells you he graduated from Oberlin College. One boy's horrific memoir captures the reality of those distant news pictures of kids with guns somewhere in Africa." - Hazel Rockman

If you're intrigued, don't forget to check our library's catalog for this book!


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