A Long Way Gone is the memoir of Ishmael, a child soldier in the civil war in Sierra Leone. Ishmael recounts his days just before the war started, and just after it started, when he and various groups of other young boys would travel alone, trying to find a safe place or word of their families. At first Ishmael and his older brother traveled together, but they became separated. Ishmael then traveled alone for some time and was lost for some time in the jungle. Ishmael almost finds his family when he and a group of boys from his school hear that refugees from their home are located in a nearby village. However, there is an attack on that village on the very same day by the rebels, and Ishmael accepts that he is now alone in the world. He and the other boys travel to a village that is occupied by the army. At first the army does not make them fight, but eventually the army recruits them, gives each boy an AK47 and a rousing speech about how the rebels must be destroyed, since they were responsible for the deaths of the boys’ families, and Ishmael’s time as a child soldier begins.
Ishmael’s memories are recounted in such honest, simple, but powerful language. Although there are passages containing gruesome imagery, it is difficult to put this book down. Although Ishmael’s story might not be identical to that of a teenager living in America today, the themes found in his memoir are universal. They include the loneliness of growing up, the pressures of authority, and most important of all: the hope of rehabilitation after witnessing and experiencing immense violence. At first Ishmael is hesitant when he is given the chance of rehabilitation at a UNICEF center for children who fought in the war. He and his friends are recovering from the abuse of multiple drugs as well as trying to come to terms with what happened during the war, the unspeakable violence that they saw and did. However, even throughout this the book did not feel too heavy or the language too dense. The book ends with Ishmael having to flee the country because of the war. I would have liked him to continue his memoir with his remaining young adult years, which he spent in New York, but the book ends before this.