The main character of this novel is Arnold “Junior” Spirit; the story is told through his first-person perspective. Junior is a full-blooded Native American and lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation with his mom, dad, and sister Mary. Junior’s grandmother lives close to his house, which is not far from where his grandmother’s parents were raised. The Spirit family’s roots run deep on this piece of land.
Junior’s father is often drunk and is many times absent from the family. He is not a mean drunk but rather a gentle man who is often depressed. Junior thinks if given a chance, his dad might have been a musician. His mom, he believes, would have become a teacher. Junior also thinks that his sister, Mary, would have been a writer. She liked to write romance novels. Junior’s grandmother is well-known and loved not only on the Spokane Reservation but on reservations all over the United States. She faithfully attended many Native American ceremonies (such as powwows) and was a very giving and loving person. Thousands of people show up for her funeral after she is killed by a drunk driver.
Eugene is a Native American man who was the best friend of Junior’s dad. Eugene acted as an uncle to Junior, giving him practical advice on how to deal with people. Eugene was shot in the face by one of his friends during a drunken brawl over a drink.
Rowdy is the son of an abusive, alcoholic father. A large boy, Rowdy was known for releasing his pent-up anger and frustration by beating up other kids. However, he is particularly protective of Junior. Rowdy spent much of his time at Junior’s house and stuck close to Junior at school so no one would bully him. However, when Junior transfers to the white school, Rowdy cannot get over the feeling that Junior has turned his back on his culture and therefore on their friendship. Eventually, Rowdy and Junior are able to talk to one another again, but their relationship is forever altered.