Ishmael's village is attacked by the Revolutionary United Front one day while he and some friends are away from town. His family is lost, and life as he knows it is pretty much over.
Ishmael and his friends wander from village to village desperately trying not to starve to death or be killed. The boys finally hear about a town where the government has troops there to protect people. Safety at last?
Not quite. In this village, Ishmael and his friends are forced to join the army. Ishmael is only 13 years old. Over the next two years, Ishmael shoots a whole lot of guns, does a whole lot of drugs, and kills a whole lot of people.
One day, Ishmael and several other boy soldiers are told they're going to a UNICEF rehabilitation center so that they can reenter society. It's a rough road, but Ishmael manages to get better and reflect on what he was forced to do. He even gets to go to New York City to speak to the U.N. about the effects of war on children. The short story: it's bad.
Back in Sierra Leone, the rebel army has taken over the capital of Sierra Leone and Ishmael is terrified that he'll be forced back into fighting. In desperation, he calls Laura Simms and asks if he can come live with her.
Ishmael takes the dangerous trip to neighboring Guinea where he believes he can escape Sierra Leone and board a plane to America.
Ishmael eventually ends up in the United States where he is adopted by Laura Simms and everything ends happily.