A half-black, half-Native American teenager, the daughter of Christine and Elgin. Rayona is unusually tall and thin, and is very self-conscious about her physical appearance. A very intelligent girl, Rayona is also remarkably observant, though sometimes her ignorance of the world leaves her at a disadvantage. She loves her parents but is repeatedly disappointed by them, and she often feels unloved and unwanted. She dreams about having a perfect family, and invents one based on a letter she finds on the ground while working as a custodian at Bearpaw Lake. Eventually, Rayona becomes satisfied with her real family and abandons her fantasy of an ideal family.
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Clara and Lecon’s daughter. Christine is raised as Ida’s daughter, although she is actually Ida’s half-sister and cousin. Christine is fickle in her youth, going from fearless to devoutly religious, but she loses her faith after an apocalyptic prophecy fails to come true. After her disillusionment with religion, Christine devotes her time to being popular and chasing boys. Christine is very protective of her brother, Lee, and always concerned for his welfare. She is self-sufficient, but is also hopelessly devoted to Elgin, Rayona’s father. Christine tries to be a better mother to Rayona than Ida was to her but nonetheless engages in excessive partying and drinking that irreparably damage her liver and pancreas.
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Lecon’s daughter. Although she poses as Christine’s mother, Ida is actually Christine’s half-sister and cousin: they share a father, and Christine’s mother is the sister of Ida’s mother. Ida is often bitter and attempts to distance herself from others, as she fears becoming too attached to or dependent upon anyone. Ida feels she has spent her entire life being taken by the flow of things. She stands firm only to maintain custody of Christine.
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Ida’s father, who has an affair with Clara that results in the birth of Christine. Lecon runs off shortly after Ida’s mother dies, and does not return.
Ida’s aunt on her mother’s side, who has an affair with her brother-in-law, Lecon. Clara is Christine’s biological mother, but the family hides this fact to avoid disgrace. Ida assumes control of Christine’s upbringing during the time Clara lives in Denver. When Clara returns to the reservation and attempts to take Christine away, Ida asserts her legal rights to the girl, and Clara leaves bitterly.
Lee’s best friend in high school, who shared the entire reservation’s high hopes for Lee. Dayton and Christine would often fight for Lee’s affections, and Dayton thinks of Christine as a sister. After Lee’s death, Dayton shares a connection with Christine because of their relationship with Lee.
Ida’s son with Willard Pretty Dog, Lee grows up thinking he is Christine’s brother. Initially a timid boy, Lee becomes the most attractive young man on the reservation. Sometimes mocking in his pride, he is sure that he will have the great future that the entire reservation imagines for him.
Christine’s husband and Rayona’s father. Elgin has good intentions but never follows through. He seems to care for Christine, but never stays with her for long; he claims to want to be there for Rayona, but never is. He and Christine have an on-and-off relationship that typically runs hot for a few weeks and cold for much longer periods.
A priest on the mission who first becomes acquainted with Ida’s family after the affair between Clara and Lecon. Father Hurlburt has a unique connection with Ida because, after the death of her parents, he is the only person on the reservation who knows the truth of Christine’s lineage. Ida and Father Hurlburt share a special, though often unarticulated, friendship. He is one of the few people who seems to understand Ida, and he is always there when she needs him.
A new cleric at the Holy Martyrs Mission who recruits Rayona into the God Squad. Father Tom is the only person on the reservation who seems to think Rayona is worth his time. The two spend a lot of time together, if only because Rayona has no one else to whom she can relate. However, their close friendship ends awkwardly when Father Tom’s friendship turns to lechery at Bearpaw Lake.
The most attractive boy on the reservation when Ida is young. Willard comes back from World War II horribly scarred. After some matchmaking by Father Hurlburt, Willard takes up with Ida and fathers Lee. After his looks are restored through reconstructive surgery, Willard is willing to stay with Ida out of duty, but when Ida realizes his take on their relationship, she sends him home.
The owner of a gas station near Bearpaw Lake. Sky is kind and giving, but also rather simpleminded. He takes things as they come, and Rayona appreciates his good humor.
Sky’s wife and a cook at Bearpaw Lake State Park. Evelyn is strong willed, understanding, and caring. She likes Rayona and tries to look out for her.
Ida’s sister. Pauline leaves their parents while Ida and Clara are away in Colorado and goes to work with the nuns at the Holy Martyrs Mission. Although Pauline cares about Ida and her family, she is often disapproving. Pauline’s strong religious faith and identity sometimes make her unbearably confident and self-righteous.
Pauline and Dale Cree’s son. Foxy, whose real name is Kennedy, is a cruel boy. He taunts and even threatens Rayona, and always makes her very uncomfortable.