Full of fear, suffering, and hope for redemption, Ishmael Beah's memoir A Long Way Gone will introduce students to the life of a child soldier during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Readers will be stunned by the speed at which war turns Beah from a joyful teenage boy into a soldier addicted to both the gruesome violence of battle and the drugs the Sierra Leone Armed Forces freely distributed. This story of survival will leave readers wondering what they would do in Beah's harrowing situation and allow understanding for the questionable actions of Beah and his friends as they travel from village to village, both as wanderers and as soldiers.

To give students a complete understanding of the book’s context, a lesson should be dedicated to Sierra Leone, its culture, and its history of political unrest, as well as the Revolutionary United Front and UNICEF. Additionally, a lesson on the psychology of child soldiers—how they are intimidated and brainwashed into taking up arms, the trauma they endure, and their difficult transition to civilian life—will help students comprehend Beah's actions and resilience.

Summary of A Long Way Gone

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 2007
  • Length: 229 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 920
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-10

While Ishmael Beah performs in a rap group with friends in a neighboring village, forces of the Revolutionary United Front attack his hometown. With nowhere to go, Beah and his friends travel from place to place in search of food, shelter, and allies. As each day passes, the boys become increasingly hostile, and they find themselves in situations that force them to forgo their morals to survive. Although they are able to avoid capture and execution multiple times, the boys are eventually conscripted into the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. The other soldiers become their family, and the boys adopt their violent way of life as they train and carry out orders to attack villages just like Beah's.

After the boys have fought, killed, and become addicted to drugs, they are brought to UNICEF. During Beah's rehabilitation, he realizes that redemption is possible, and he is invited to tell his story to the United Nations to raise awareness of the turmoil in his country.

Content Warning: A Long Way Gone contains graphic violence, drug use, and some profanity.

What Your Students Will Love About A Long Way Gone

  • Learning about this critical time in the history of Sierre Leone
  • Beah's story of courage and redemption

Potential Student Struggles With A Long Way Gone

  • The numerous instances of graphic violence
  • Relating to unsympathetic characters

Learning Objectives for A Long Way Gone

  • Understand how the need for survival might drive people to act in ways that would otherwise be uncharacteristic of their nature.
  • Compare and contrast Beah's role as a refugee and as a soldier.
  • Discuss redemption and whether it is easier to achieve forgiveness from others or oneself.
  • Trace Beah's character development as he becomes a model child soldier to an advocate for survivors.

Literary Elements in A Long Way Gone

  • Conflict
  • Foreshadowing
  • Historical Present
  • Memoir
  • Personification
  • Setting
  • Symbolism
  • And more!

Major Themes in A Long Way Gone

Displacement — Once Beah loses his village to violence, he is a refugee. He is able to feel some sense of belonging in the army but is otherwise without a home until the end of the memoir, and even then his stability is constantly threatened.

Related Works:

Identity and Oppression — Beah assumes many roles: friend, brother, rapper, refugee, soldier, advocate, and survivor. When the soldiers attack, they send the message that you are either with them or against them, and their brainwashing tactics remove individuality.

Related Works:

Overcoming Hardships — Beah is able to survive by wandering among villages looking for shelter as well as the training and combat his superiors put him through. Not only that, but he is able to turn his life around from violence and suffering to human rights advocacy.

Related Works:

Other Resources for A Long Way Gone

Order A Long Way Gone Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
A Long Way Gone Paperback Student Edition

This free guide was originally posted in November 2017. It has been updated as of July 2020.