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A thirteen-year-old Ojibwe boy and the narrator of the novel. Joe tells the story from some point in the future as he looks back on the events of the summer of 1988. Young Joe cares deeply for his family and friends and has enjoyed a relatively privileged childhood. However, Joe’s world is shaken when his mother is a victim of a terrible assault. He struggles with the aftermath of this event as he transitions from a child to an adult and tries to define and find justice for his family.
A middle-aged Ojibwe woman, Joe’s mother, and a tribal enrollment specialist. Previously a devoted mother, she suffers a severe breakdown in the aftermath of an assault and withdraws from Joe and her family.
A middle-aged Ojibwe man, Joe’s father, and a judge. He cares deeply for Joe and Geraldine and believes in the rule of law. He hopes to contribute to building a better legal system for the Ojibwe.
An Ojibwe boy on the reservation, Joe’s best friend, and self-described “brother.” Cappy supports Joe when his mother is assaulted and gives him a black stone he describes as a “thunderbird egg.” Cappy helps Joe in his quest for vengeance, even taking some of the burden on himself. He is devoted to Joe and to his girlfriend Zelia, even when his devotion ends up placing him in danger.
A disturbed white man who attacks Geraldine as part of a plot to revenge himself on a young girl with whom he is obsessed. Linden is a cruel, entitled man who blames others for his misfortunes and wants revenge on those he believes wronged him. He is the novel’s antagonist.
A white woman, Linden’s twin sister, who was adopted by the Chippewa Wishkob family after the Larks rejected her at birth for mild disabilities. Somewhat simple but kindly, Linda was pressured by the Lark family to save her brother’s life with a kidney transplant. She later regrets her actions. Linda believes that a twin spirit has accompanied her throughout her life.
A white ex-exotic dancer involved with Joe’s Uncle Whitey. She loves horses and dogs. Sonja has had a hard life and sometimes feels herself unworthy of respect. She is the object of Joe’s lust, which she resents as she has taken a motherly role towards him.
The owner of the gas station and Joe’s uncle. Whitey lives with Sonja. He drinks and sometimes has violent episodes of jealousy towards Sonja. The two represent a passionate but problematic relationship.
An elderly Ojibwe man and Joe’s maternal grandfather. Although very old, Mooshum is still an active part of life. He is a connection to the tribal history and tells Joe stories about the past.
A strange, mysterious Catholic priest. He is an ex-Marine and often reacts violently towards Joe and his friends, but he sometimes offers them helpful advice.
A dog that Sonja gives the family after Geraldine’s assault. Fierce and protective, Pearl stands up for her own boundaries by refusing to fetch.