The protagonist is Ishmael and he is central to understanding the horrors of war in Sierra Leone, because he became a boy soldier.
The antagonists at first are the rebels who bring horror and death to civilians for reasons Ishmael can never discern. Later, the antagonist becomes Ishmael himself when he very nearly cannot find the strength within himself to recover from begin a bloodthirsty soldier to a child once more.
The climax occurs when Ishmael realizes he will never escape war and find peace until he leaves Sierra Leone. He finds a way to get to Guinea and then to New York City and become a new person.
After a long and harrowing journey, Ishmael finds his way out of Sierra Leone and into Guinea. From there, with the help of Laura Simms, he travels to New York City, finishes high school, and graduates from College. He becomes an advocate at the UN and other international organizations for dealing with the solution to children forced to become soldiers.
This true story involves the life of Ishmael Beah who lives a fairly happy life in Sierra Leone until civil war breaks out. Then, like other civilians, he is forced to run for his life, becoming separated from his family and later losing them to murder by the rebels. He later finds a way to be rehabilitated and regain his childhood. He once again learns how to love.