The preface to the memoir opens with the declaration that Ishmael's high school friends believe there is more to his life than he has revealed. Then, through a series of unnamed dialogues, we learn that this book will be that story.
The preface creates a tension immediately between the past, which Ishmael has been keeping to himself, and the present. The lack of dialogue tags shows a communal voice in his friends' wonderings, but their response of "Cool" when Ishmael reveals that he has seen terrible things during the civil war in his country shows just how far apart their worlds truly are. Ishmael "smiles a little" to his friends' reactions, and this sets the stage for sharing his story.