Depending on the book, students will often complain about and not enjoy reading assignments. Even for avid readers, sometimes it is extremely difficult to get through a book that they do not enjoy. In some cases, though, a book is assigned that many students do take pleasure in. In fact, a majority of the eighth grade students were enthusiastic about reading and completing Ishmael Beah’s true story, A Long Way Gone. Even though the book was around 300 pages long, it barely seemed long enough for numerous students. Beah, through his incredible story, found a way to truly connect with readers and compel them to eagerly to read on.
This amazing true story takes place in the small country of Sierra Leone, located on the western coast of Africa. Ishmael Beah, a boy in his early teens, has heard of war in other parts of the country, but never imagined that it would reach his peaceful village of Mogbwemo. Before long, the rebels begin to attack all of the villages in the area, and Beah finds himself on the run, tired and not able to find a safe place to stay. He is separated from his family, and has no idea if they are even still alive. Recruited by anti-rebel forces, Beah is pressured into joining the army, even though he is still only a child. As part of the army, Ishmael is given weapons, new clothes, and is drugs. He begins to go crazy and has a sudden drive to brutally murder opposing soldiers. Eventually, Beah is brought to safety, taken to a rehabilitation center for child soldiers in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital. There, he struggles to overcome his past and build a new and positive future.
I think that what made this story so compelling to most students was how much they could relate to Ishmael. Most eighth graders are 14, which was around Ishmael’s age when war took over his country. It was really surprising how normal of a life Ishmael was living before the war, and it makes people question whether or not it could happen to them and what it would be like if it did. It was also inspiring to hear the story of a boy who was able to overcome such great obstacles at such a young age. It is amazing how, even after experiencing brutal events, a young person was able to not let their past take over their lives. Even though the book was extremely violent and sad, I think that it is good for students to become aware of the conflicting events occurring in other countries. It is also important for students to realize how awful life can be for some people. This story helps students to better appreciate what they have, and to encourage them to enjoy life while they can, because sometimes it can take a turn for the worse.