In A Long Way Gone, Beah's main focus is the struggle to survive as a child soldier. Beah, about to be reunited with his family, witnesses the burning of a village and there is no trace of his family, forcing him to accept a position as a child soldier in the government army. He and his friends are led to believe that they will be better protected but the government army is as ruthless as the rebels and the boys are soon crawling through bushes, learning how to use AK47s, inducted into a life of unspeakable atrocities. Beah is reminded by another child soldier that, "You will get used to it, everybody does eventually."
As the boys set off on armed missions, the friends try to stay together. Beah is so traumatized as he watches friends get shot and takes part in an ambush himself. (chapter 13) After a nightmare, soldiers drug him to steel him for future missions that he takes part in. By chapter 14, Beah is addicted to the drugs and, for him, killing has "become as easy as drinking water." He is always angry, spurred on by a belief that the rebels killed his family, and his fear is replaced by killing sprees. Beah believes the lieutenant when he says that they are protecting the villagers and feels that he is a worthy participant. He is even promoted after competing to kill a rebel soldier the quickest.
After 2 years, UNICEF is able to reach the boys and take them away from the fighting. Beah is angry and unsure and wants nothing more than to fight. He is confused but does make friends at the compound. However, when some of the many boys realize that some were rebel fighters, a fight ensues, followed by a gun battle as the boys seize the caretaker soldiers' guns, and boys are dead before breaking it up. Later, the boys are taken to a rehabilitation center.
At the center, it is clear that the boys have been so affected by their situation, causing havoc and even severely injuring the store man. Beah, suffering from the effects of withdrawal as there are no more drugs, is injured. It is a long road to recovery as nightmares and memories continue to haunt him and the other boys who remain reckless. Beah remembers burying rebel soldiers alive during one of their former expeditions. The staff at the Center do everything to help the boys even arranging trips to the city. The true effects of the boys' indoctrination is evident as they struggle to recognize or accept any form of organization or discipline.
On a visit to the hospital, Beah befriends a nurse, eventually learning to trust her. He reveals some of the stories to her and begins to believe her when she tells him that his behavior and what happened is not his fault. As the process of recovery continues and Beah is encouraged by Esther, the nurse, he becomes a spokesperson for the Center, visiting groups and talking about the possibility of rehabilitation.
Beah is united with an uncle who accepts him into his family and he begins to live as normally as possible. He becomes a representative for child soldiers through the UN and Children Associated with War. A passport and visa is arranged and he arrives to a cold New York, never having seen snow before. Watching TV is also a new experience for him. There are many children there and Beah talks at the UN Economic and Social Council.
Returning home and now aged 16, Beah goes back to school (chapter 21) but the town is overtaken by soldiers. Beah's uncle dies but Beah is able to get to New York after a long and difficult escape via Guinea.