Alhaji is a friend of Ishmael’s. They had known each other in school at Mattru Jong. Ishmael meets up with Alhaji again, along with five other boys, after he has been wandering around as a refugee. Alhaji is the tallest of the boys. He becomes a soldier along with Ishmael, and is a member of Ishmael’s squad. He prides himself on undertaking “Rambo”-like military assaults, which get him the nickname Little Rambo. Like Ishmael, Alhaji is taken out of the war and sent to live at Benin Home.
Allie is Ishmael’s cousin whom he meets during his period of rehabilitation when he visits his uncle for the first time. Allie is twenty-one years old—several years older than Ishmael. He is friendly to Ishmael and is himself a jovial young man. He and Ishmael share a room.
Bah is the boy who accompanies Ishmael to the conference in New York City. He is also a former child soldier.
Ishmael Beah is the narrator of the story, which starts in 1993 when he is twelve years old, a boy growing up in a small town called Mogbwermo. He loves dancing to rap music, and he and his friends have even started a rap and dance performance group. He is also known for being a bit mischievous. Ishmael is a highly intelligent boy who appears to do well in school, and he loves to recite Shakespeare. However, his father has recently refused to pay the school fees so Ishmael has a break from going to school. His parents are separated, and he lives with his father and stepmother, as well as his older brother Junior. He also has a younger brother called Ibrahim, who lives with their mother in a town about three miles away. Ishmael’s nearly carefree life is interrupted by the coming of the war, after which his life becomes nightmarish. He loses everyone important to him: his parents, and soon after that his brother Junior, then his friends Saidu and Musa. He wanders as a refugee and then is recruited as a soldier in the civil war. Even after he has been rescued from the war by UNICEF, his troubles do not end, since the uncle he goes to live with and becomes very fond of also dies. Ishmael eventually manages to leave Sierra Leone and go to the United States.
Esther is a nurse at the hospital in Freetown where Ishmael goes for treatment. She is tall and attractive. She befriends Ishmael and gets him to tell her his story. He is reluctant at first and pushes her away, but eventually he accepts her and even comes to love her. He realizes that she does not judge him.
The Fisherman looks after Ishmael and his six friends when they seek refuge in his hut after fleeing a hostile village. He is a cheerful, contented man in his early twenties who is soon to be married. He brings them food and helps them ease the pain in their injured feet.
Corporal Gadafi is the soldier who trained Ishmael and the other boys when they are first recruited by the army. He is young and bald and looks older than he is. He is killed at some point in the fighting, but Ishmael gives no details.
Gasemu is a single man from Ishmael’s home town. He is known for not wanting to get married, preferring to eat alone. Ishmael meets up with him again in another village, during his wanderings as a refugee. When they flee from rebels in the village, Gasemu is shot twice and dies the next day. Ishmael is grief-stricken.
Gibrilla is a friend of Ishmael’s from Mattru Jong. When the village is attacked, he is one of the boys who escapes with Ishmael. Gibrilla and the others find refuge at Kamator, where Gibrilla’s uncle lives. But after that village is attacked, Ishmael is separated from Gibrilla and most of his other friends, and that is the last he sees of him.
Ishmael’s uncle meets his nephew for the first time when Ishmael is at the Benin Home. He immediately shows Ishmael affection and concern, and not many months go by before Ishmael goes to live with his uncle and his family at the their modest house in Freetown. However, before long his uncle becomes ill, and because no doctor will come to see him because of the violence in the city, he dies.
Lieutenant Jabati is the officer in charge of the government army that recruits Ishmael. He is an educated man who can recite Shakespeare. Tall and quiet, he carries an air of authority that the soldiers respect. He instills in them hatred of the enemy. However, he willingly lets the boys go when the UNICEF officials come to take them away from the war.
Kaloko is one of Ishmael’s friends from Mattru Jong. When the village of Kamator is attacked, Kaloko hides in the bush. He and Ishmael return to the village the next day, only to find it burned. For two weeks, Ishmael and Kaloko stay with a family who are hiding near the swamp. When Ishmael decides to leave their hiding place to find somewhere safer, Kaloko is afraid to leave, so Ishmael sets off on his own. That is the last he sees of Kaloko.
Kanei is one of the group of six boys who join up with Ishmael after he has been wandering on his own. At sixteen, he is the oldest boy in the group. Ishmael remembers him because they went to school together in Mattru Jong. Ishmael admires him, remarking that Kanei “always seemed to know what to say and how to handle certain situations better than the rest of us.” (p. 62). Kanei shares all Ishmael’s adventures. He is recruited as a soldier and gets promoted to junior sergeant.
Khalilou is one of Ishmael’s friends from Mattru Jong. At the beginning of the story, when Ishmael, his brother, and Talloi visit Mattru Jong, they all stay at Khalilou’s house. Khalilou joins with Ishmael and the other boys in fleeing from the war, but Ishmael loses touch with him after the rebel attack on Kamator.
Josiah is an eleven-year-old boy who is recruited as a soldier. He is killed in the very first battle he takes part in.
Jumah is one of the group of six boys who join up with Ishmael as they all try to reach the safety of Bonthe district. Like the others, Jumah is recruited as a child soldier. He get sent to fight somewhere else, not with Ishmael, Kanei and Alhaji,
but the boys meet up again with Jumah just before they are taken out of the war.
It appears that Jumah, however, continues to serve in the army.
Junior is Ishmael’s older brother. Junior loves rap music and it is he who first shows Ishmael how to dance hip-hop. Ishmael and Junior are together in Mattru Jong when the war first affects them and they lose their parents. The two boys stick together until the rebel attack on Kamator, when Ishmael flees but does not have time to find Junior. That night is the last time Ishmael sees his brother.
Mambu is a boy Ishmael meets up with at the Benin Home. Mambu is also a former child soldier, and he and Ishmael become close friends. Mambu takes part in the fight with the former rebel boys at the Home, and he shoots several of them. No foster family can be found for him and he eventually returns to the war as a soldier.
Mamie Kpana is the name by which Ishmael’s grandmother is known. She is a good storyteller and Ishmael has many happy memories of her.
Mohamed is Ishmael’s best friend from his home town. They used to perform rap music together. Ishmael does not see Mohamed from the day he leaves for Mattru Jong, before the war has affected any of them, to the day Mohamed arrives at Benin Home, where Ishmael has already been for six months. Mohamed has also been a child soldier. He and Ishmael resume their friendship, and Mohamed eventually goes to live with Ishmael and his new family.
Moriba is one of the group of six boys who join up with Ishmael as they try to make their way to Bonthe. He is a quiet boy. Like the others, he is forced into becoming a soldier, and he is filled during a gunfight.
Musa is one of the “seven boys,” including Ishmael, who roam the area trying to find safety. His home town is Mattru Jong. He is short but quite big, and he is a good storyteller. He becomes a child soldier but is killed in the very first battle.
Saidu is one of the “seven boys.” He is quiet, like Moriba. Saidu falls sick and dies before the others are recruited by the army.
Sheku is a seven-year-old boy who is forced to become a soldier at the same time as Ishmael is. He regards Ishmael as his big brother. The gun Sheku is given is too heavy for him and he cannot lift it properly. When he is sent into battle he takes too much ammunition, and he falls over because it is too heavy.
Auntie Sallay is the wife of Ishmael’s uncle. She welcomes Ishmael into their home and into their family.
Laura Simms is a white American woman from New York City who describes herself as a storyteller. Ishmael meets her at the conference in New York, where she is one of the facilitators. When Ishmael is desperate to get out of Sierra Leone, Laura agrees to let him stay at her house. She later becomes his adoptive mother.
Talloi is a friend of Ishmael’s from his home town. He is a year older than Ishmael. He goes with Ishmael and Junior to Mattru Jong and like them is orphaned due to the war. He sticks with Ishmael until the rebel attack on Kamator, after which Ishmael does not see him again.
Dr. Tamba is an official from the organization Children Associated with the War who accompanies Ishmael to New York.