When I was 12 years old, I was just starting at my secondary school back in Melbourne, I was spending my weekends playing tennis and I remember I had a terrible crush on a boy called Ray Jowett.
Ishmael Beah could not have had a more different experience. When he was 12 years old, he was a child soldier fighting in the brutal civil war in his native Sierra Leone – strung out on drugs and casual slaughter.
And A Long Way Gone is his story, a fascinating and often very disturbing memoir of a stolen childhood, his rehabilitation at the age of 15 in a UNICEF camp and ultimately his flight to a new life in New York.
‘“My new friends have begun to suspect that I haven't told them the full story of my life,” Beah explains at the beginning of the book.
‘"Why did you leave Sierra Leone?" "Because there is a war." "You mean, you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?" "Yes, all the time." "Cool." I smile a little. "You should tell us about it sometime." "Yes, sometime."'
If ever there was a book to show there is nothing cool about war, this is it – a very matter-of-fact account of the reality of other people's lives.