Benjie Johnson, a thirteen-year-old black heroin addict. Benjie is rebellious and searches for meaning in his life while purposely disrupting the lives of his friends and members of his family. He believes that he caused his father to abandon him and his mother. Benjie longs for validation, particularly because he feels like an intruder in his own home, where his mother attempts to show love both to him and to her common-law husband, Craig Butler. Benjie rejects and provokes Butler, forcing his mother to choose between them.
Rose Johnson, Benjie’s mother. She is thirty-three years old and works odd jobs to support herself, her son, and her aging mother. She meets and falls in love with Craig Butler, who adores her. She is acutely aware that loving Butler exacerbates the friction in her home, because Benjie is jealous and resentful of Butler. Rose is a willful woman who tries to exorcise Benjie’s demon, an addiction to heroin.
Craig Butler, a struggling maintenance man who wants to marry Rose as soon as her divorce is final. Butler is faced with Rose’s mother, Mrs. Ransom Bell, who constantly chastises him, and with Benjie, who uses his drug addiction to punish Rose for loving a man who is not his father. Butler strives to show his two detractors that he can be a good provider and source of support for the entire family. An easygoing, even-tempered man, Butler gives balance to the Johnson household.