I really liked this book because it surprised me; I had anticipated a grueling, unpleasant reading experience, but instead found Beah's account to be engaging, honest, and humorous at times without compromising the serious issue of the civil war and his descriptions of child soldiers. I was also mesmerized by Beah and his friends' passion for early '90s American rap and hip hop music: at several time throughout the memoir, Beah includes references to Naughty By Nature, Heavy D and the Boyz, and Tupac Shakur. This inclusion of a world with which I am familiar (not that I claim to be an early '90s hip hop expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I do like the music) brought Beah's foreign experience with war and soldiering into sharp relief for me; it was a jarring juxtaposition of the familiar with the "unknowable-ness" of Beah's life in Sierra Leone.
Having said all that, however, after Googling "Ishmael Beah", I discovered that there has been controversy surrounding A Long Way Gone and Beah's version of the events and chronology he describes. The Slate article I read is linked here. I'm disappointed, but not entirely surprised that Beah may have taken some poetic license with his memoir, the practice of which has been cause for much argument and discussion regarding several recent memoirs (notably A Million Little Pieces by James Frey). So, read A Long Way Gone. Keep in mind that some of the events may not have happened exactly as described, but take from it Beah's voice, and his passion for his country, and the confident knowledge that children ARE having their childhoods snatched away from them, ARE being brutalized, and DO need our help. 4 out of 4 Bananas!
Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2010 Nominee