Summary
Chapter 1
The year is January of 1993. Ishmael, his brother, Junior, and his friend Talloi make a sixteen mile journey, on foot, to the town of Mattru Jong for a talent show. Since Ishmael was eight, he had been in a rap group with his brother and friends. They pack their bags with cassettes, lyrics, and layers of clothing, which would benefit them later. On the trip, they stop in the village of Ishmael’s grandmother. They leave a few hours later, and arrive in Mattru Jong. There, they meet up with their friends, Kaloko, Khalilou, and Gibrilla. They spend the night at Khalilou’s home. At the house, they hear word that their village had been attacked by the rebels. Many people believe that the village of Mattru Jong is next. Junior and Ishmael head to the wharf to see if they can find any of their family members. They decide to go back to their village to find their family. On the way back a woman tells them that too much blood has been spilled where they are going. However, they continue their journey home. On the way back, the two boys stop at their grandmother’s village. It is completely deserted. Suddenly, a Volkswagen pulls up in the village. A man with a bleeding arm comes out of the van. He says that even though the rebels killed his entire family, he is still going to give them a proper burial. There are many wounded people following the van, including a mother holding a baby that had so many bullet holes in its back, it was obvious that the baby was dead. The two brothers head back to Mattru Jong. Every morning they would go down to the wharf to see if there was any sign of their family. However, news dries up. Ishmael and his brother are left to wait.
Chapter 2
This chapter begins with Ishmael having a haunting dream. He is pushing a dead body in a wheelbarrow to a cemetery. When he gets to the cemetery, he unwraps the body. He sees the face, and realizes it is his own. He abruptly awakens and realizes he is in New York City where he is starting his new life. However, his mind continues to wander back to Sierra Leone and the war. Ishmael spends the rest of the night awake, so he could not go back to his horrible dreams.
Chapter 3
Junior and his brother have stayed in Mattru Jong longer than expected. They hear word that the rebels are twenty miles north of the town and that Mattru Jong could be next. A messenger comes and gives word that in fact, the rebels are headed towards the town. People go into hiding, and the town is bare. However, the rebels do not arrive when they say they would. People come out of hiding, and the town has life again. Five days later, gunshots are heard. Fifteen minutes go by without any other shots, so everybody is calm. Suddenly, chaos hits the town. The rebels enter the town, forcing families and children to separate. The townspeople attempt to flee, but the rebels execute every person they can. The boys move from bush to bush in order to escape. Finally, the rebels give up.
Chapter 4
For several days, the boys walk along a tiny path in the jungle. There is little food to eat along the way. Ishmael is stricken with memories of his family. He is too hungry to cry. The group sleeps in abandoned villages and finds any food they can there. Since there is no substantial food to eat, they decide to sneak back into Mattru Jong in order to get money to purchase food. They sneak into town and get the money. However, as they are crawling out of the town, the rebels hear noise and fire into the bushes. Something distracts the rebels on the other side of town, which allows the boys time to escape. Ironically, the vendors that sell the food are all closed. That night, the boys are so hungry that they steal food from a home.
Chapter 5
Because of the boys desperate situation to find food, they decide to, once again, head back to Mattru Jong. As they are walking, three rebels jump out of the bushes. The rebels walk the group back to the town. The rebels announce that they are going to select a few of the six boys along with 15 other villagers to fight for the rebels. Khalilou is the first to be selected. Ishmael is also chosen; however, Junior is not. Then the rebels change their minds. This time Junior is picked, and Ishmael is not. Ishmael, along with those also not selected, is taken to the river to be executed. Suddenly, gunshots ring out and the rebels scatter. Ishmael sprints into the bushes. He finds the rest of his friends hiding nearby. They decide to get as far away from where they are as possible.
Chapter 6
The group is walking, when suddenly a group of muscular men bounce on them. The boys realize it is very dangerous walking through villages because of rumors that groups of young boys were with the rebels. They are taken to the chief of the village and questioned. Even though they insist they are not rebels, the chief does not believe them. Thankfully, one man says he recognizes the boys and they are saved. They continue their trek into the jungle. The next morning, a woman, in a group of travelers, tells Gibrilla that his aunt is in a village 30 miles from here. So they pack up and start heading toward the village. At the village, in exchange for shelter and food, the boys become watchmen for the rebels. After three months, the rebels never came. Instead of being watchmen, the boys work in the fields.
Chapter 7
Unexpectedly one night, the rebels attack the village. During the attack Ishmael is separated from his brother and friends. He runs into the bushes alone. Later, he finds Kaloko in the bushes. They search for the rest of their group, but it is to no avail. Ishmael is frustrated, and he decides to leave. Kaloko is too afraid to go with him. On the sixth day of walking aimlessly through the jungle, he comes in contact with people. However, they do not trust him, and they pretend like they do not understand him. Ishmael becomes very frustrated.
Chapter 8
Ishmael walks for two days straight without rest. On the third day, he wandered into the jungle. There, he became hopelessly lost. He decided to make a hammock in the jungle. He begins walking again through the forest. As he is walking, he crosses paths with a group of wild pigs, which chase him for a half-mile. As he continues his journey, he meets six boys, three of which were his friends from his same village. Among the group was Alhaji. They begin to head toward the coast.
Chapter 9
One morning, they group hears a thundering roar, and they dive into the bushes. They realize that it is in fact the Atlantic Ocean. They see a group of huts down the beach, and they venture toward it. Suddenly, a group of fishermen pounce on the boys. They are taken to the chief, and the chief punishes them by taking their sandals. They do not realize what a horrid punishment it is. After walking for a while, their feet begin to burn in pain. Thankfully, they come upon a deserted hut, but their feet are bleeding. A man enters the hut and offers them food and water. They sleep in the hut, and the man takes care of their feet. After two weeks, an old woman comes to the hut to alert the boys that the fishermen found out that the boys were staying in the hut, and they were coming to capture them. The men capture the boys. The chief interrogates the boys, and before he could throw them in the ocean, the chief finds the rap cassettes in Ishmael’s pocket. The chief is intrigued by the music, and he lets the boys go.
Chapter 10
After days of walking the group comes upon a village. There, they are greeted warmly and asked to go hunting. The next morning, they leave for the next village. While walking, they hear footsteps, and they hide in the bushes. When the footsteps pass, they continue on. However, one of the boys, Saidu, is still lying in the bushes. He does not respond to anything. They decide to carry him to the next village for help. While being carried, he coughs. By midday, they arrive at a very crowded village. There, Ishmael finds out that his family is in the next village. He is ecstatic. However, they agree to spend the night where they are. When they awake the next morning Saidu is dead.