We’ve seen the nameless faces of young African boys waving rifles in countless civil wars on the evening news. Now, thanks to Ishmael Beah’s riveting account of his life as a child soldier in A Long Way Gone (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, $22), we now can learn their story.

In spare, matter-of-fact language we follow 12-year-old Beah as he is forced to flee his home in Mogbwemo, after his mother, father and younger brother are slaughtered in a series of attacks led by rebels involved with the Revolutionary United Front during Sierra Leone’s civil war. A few months later, while seeking asylum in a refugee camp, he picks up a gun under a lieutenant’s orders and joins them to fight against those who murdered his people and forced him to flee his land. Told with candor, intelligence and insight, A Long Way Gone doesn’t sermonize; it’s just one story of a young soldier’s heartbreaking life you won’t ever forget.

Where is the author today? Beah moved to the United States in 1998, and now lives in New York after graduating from Oberlin College in 2004.

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Photo Credit: John Madere