Reading Review: A Boy Soldier

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

I’m sort of at a loss for where to start on this review. I bought this book several years ago and it has sat on my bookshelf all this time because I was, quite honestly, afraid to read it. I know a little (very little) about the civil wars in the Sudan and Uganda and several other African countries. I know that a common practice in these wars is to kidnap children and force them to join your side – boys as soldiers, girls as wives. Often to “initiate” these children into the army, they are forced to witness and participate in unthinkable, horrific acts. I know enough, I’ve heard enough to know that this book – this true account of Ishmael’s life – would be tragic and disturbing and horrific and moving.

It was.

War reached his home when he was a child, just 12 I think. He ran from it. He survived for a while in the woods, alone or with other boys also on the run. He witnessed tragedy greater than anyone should ever have to bear, least of all a 12 year old boy. He finally reached what he thought was safety – a city that was far away from the war and heavily guarded too. Once again the war caught up with him and circumstances forced him to fight –  for the government against those he had ran from for so long.

A young teenager became a soldier, a killer, a drug addict. He was good at it too. He was even appointed to lead his own platoon of soldiers. He did what he had to do in order to survive and often that meant he carried out brutal acts himself – acts that would haunt and torment him for a very long time.

He was eventually sent to a rehab facility and after a very long, difficult recovery he escaped the war and now lives with his “new mom” in the USA. His high school classmates ask him about the war. He just answers that he’ll tell them about it “someday”.

So often throughout this story I was surprised all over again to read Ishmael’s age. As he would tell stories of things he did or said or witnessed I would picture him as an adult. Then when I was reminded that he was just a boy I was honestly pained for him. I think about children in our church youth group or children of friends who are similar age and it breaks my heart to think that children just like them are forced into such tragic lives.

I think this is a story we should all read. We all need to know about these wars on the other side of the world. We need to know about these boy soldiers.

Learn more about Ishmael and the book at or check it out on Amazon.

Question: What are you reading right now?


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