Ishmael Beah: The book's protagonist. Ishmael was a child soldier for the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. His parents, brothers, grandmother, and aunt were killed by the Revolutionary United Front, or RUF. After being rescued by UNICEF and rehabilitated, he went to live with his Uncle Tommy. While there, he was recruited to travel to the United States to speak at a United Nations event about child soldiers. Returning to Freetown after his speaking event, he eventually made his way back to the United States. After a time, he was able to forgive himself and love once again. He has a special passion for rap music.
Junior Beah: Ishmael's older brother by one year.
Alhaji: One of Ishmael’s closest friends. Alhaji was part of the group of boys from Mattru Jong that Ishmael met in the wilderness. Alhaji and Ishmael formed a close bond during their years as soldiers, and were part of the same squad. Alhaji was nicknamed "Rambo" for his combat skills that were heavily influenced by the film. Alhaji and Ishmael were eventually taken by UNICEF and put into a rehabilitation shelter in Freetown. He apparently moved from foster home to foster home following the events of the book.
Kanei, Musa, Saidu, Jumah, and Moriba: Ishmael’s friends from his home village whom he meets in the wilderness after being separated from his initial group. Saidu is the first of the group to die; he dies suddenly two nights after he and the other boys eat a crow that fell from the sky. Kanei is the oldest of the group by 3 years, although Alhaji is confused as being older because he is taller. He becomes junior sergeant, and later is chosen to stay behind because he is older while Alhaji and Ishmael are sent to rehabilitation. It is unknown what happens to him. Musa is the group's storyteller. He is killed in the first battle that Ishmael and his squad fight in. Jumah and Moriba also become part of the army. Jumah is assigned to another squad in a different village, and is last seen preparing for another village raid. Moriba is killed in a fight some time during Ishmael's time as a soldier; however, his death is not thought much about.
Talloi, Gibrilla, Kaloko, and Khalilou: Ishmael's initial travelling companions. Talloi is Junior's friend and follows them to Mattru Jong for the contest. The three meet up with old friends, Gibrilla, Kaloko, and Khalilou there. They escape the attack of Mattru Jong by RUF forces, but are later split apart by another attack in a different village. Ishmael found Kaloko hiding as well, but Beah subsequently left him once he grew tired of hiding, and Kaloko was unwilling to follow him. It is unknown what happened to the four boys.
Uncle Tommy: Ishmael’s Uncle. Uncle Tommy is a carpenter with three kids and a wife, all of whom welcome Ishmael as their new brother. They all love Ishmael irrevocably, and unconditionally. Uncle Tommy and his wife are the only ones who know about Ishmael's past. However, they forgive him and take him in as their own son right away. Ishmael truly feels like he belongs when he is with them. Uncle Tommy later dies of sickness.
Esther: A nurse at the shelter whom Ishmael develops a friendship with. Ishmael tells parts of his war stories and dreams to Esther, and soon comes to fully trust her. Esther gives Ishmael a Walkman with a Run–D.M.C. cassette and later buys him a Bob Marley cassette. Esther does regular check-ups on Ishmael's mental health during his period of rehabilitation at Benin Home. Ishmael admits that he loves her, but never sees her again after he leaves Freetown.
Mambu: Another child soldier with the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. Mambu and Ishmael meet at the shelter for the first time. They become close friends. He later goes back to the front lines after his family rejects taking him in.
Mohamed: Ishmael’s best friend from his home village, whom Ishmael is reunited with at the UNICEF rehabilitation centre where Ishmael has already been for several months. Mohamed was meant to go with Ishmael to the talent show in the beginning of the story, but had to stay behind to help his father work.