AvLong Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
Just a quick review. Ishmael Beah's memoir of his time as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone, A Long Way Gone is somewhat outside my usual scope for Pink Me. It's not terribly new, and it's usually shelved as adult nonfiction. I'm including it only because I read it recently, and it frequently appears on summer reading lists for middle and high school students.
I know there's some controversy about whether or not Ishmael Beah has been entirely truthful in this memoir - but I do not care. There's some controversy about whether or not lots of people are truthful in their autobiographies. I once read Zsa Zsa Gabor's autobiography (get it on audio if you can, it's a scream), and she claimed to have been deflowered by Kemal Ataturk.
Ok I know there's a difference. Zsa Zsa Gabor did not, as far as I know, grow up to work for the U.N. But what I'm saying is, unreliable narrator or no, A Long Way Gone is the clearest window into the terrible experience of being a boy soldier that I've read, and for that reason I recommend it for classroom use in high school. I believe that teens should read books that are inspiring and show what good exists in the world, but I believe that without contrast, without an appreciation of exactly how bad we can be, noble actions cannot be appreciated either.
I would also argue - loudly - that this book be paired with one of Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana books. It becomes easy to perceive Africa as full of horrific violence and abysmal poverty, because middle-class, stable Africa rarely makes the news, and McCall Smith accurately depicts Botswana in all its rather boring beauty. Unless we can see the people in Beah's book as people just like us, what happens to Beah and his friends and his family retains an air of fiction, whether it be true or not.