Rayona is the product of generations of struggle and misunderstanding, and her coming-of-age is made especially difficult by the problems that have plagued her family since Ida first agreed to pose as Christine’s mother. Much of Rayona’s past is kept from her by her mother, Christine, and by Ida. However, Rayona is not aware of this secrecy so she does not know to look behind it or to seek to understand why her mother and presumed grandmother behave so strangely toward her. For this reason, she takes their actions at face value, often grossly misunderstanding them. Most of the time, Rayona’s innate alertness and capacity for acute observation cause her to draw conclusions about people based solely on their actions and without taking their situations into account. To some extent, the novel can be seen as an argument against this highly literal way of perceiving the world.
Rayona is constantly trying to find her place and identity in the world, a task made especially difficult by her lack of information regarding her heritage. Since she has so little sense of self, Rayona often forms opinions of herself based on the way she thinks others see her: “[t]oo big, too smart, not Black, not Indian, not friendly.” Rayona longs to be normal, to fit in, and especially to find a less dysfunctional family life. The family Rayona sees described in the letter she finds at Bearpaw Lake becomes her ideal. Rayona feels that a family should be the one place where she is always welcome, and it takes her most of the novel to realize that hers is one of those families after all.
Despite Rayona’s disappointments and frustrations, her story ends on an optimistic note and she emerges as the future of her family. When Ida begins her story, she explains that she may one day tell it to Rayona, “who might understand.” Rayona is therefore one of the few characters in the novel who may have the opportunity both to understand her past and to take control of her future. If any character in the novel can finally break from the bonds of secrecy, shame, guilt, and misunderstanding, it is Rayona.