The narrator, never named, who was ten years old at the time of “that night,” when the most important episode of the novel occurs. For the narrator, the central love story of a real teenage romance dominates her Barbie doll dreams. As the narrator comes to maturity, she is able to see that the events of “that night,” when Rick and his friends were attacked by the men of the neighborhood in defense of Mrs. Sayles, were central not only to her childish dreams but also to the aspirations of all the suburbanites who sought happiness with mates and children in their own single-family houses.
Sheryl Sayles, the fifteen-year-old heartthrob of Rick. Slight of build, with thin nondescript hair and light brown eyes, she wears tight skirts and even tighter sweaters. Her makeup is thick, her eyeliner blotched, and her thin hair teased by a teasing comb she keeps in her purse or back pocket. She wears a “slave chain” on her ankle, along with her young lover’s silver I.D. bracelet. Her father died prematurely, leaving her with a void to fill in her young life and a reckless attitude toward living. She is the first female on the block to enter adolescence.
Rick, a seventeen-year-old “hood,” complete with hot rod. Rick knows that when Sheryl speaks of death, it is time for him to make love to her. Both of Rick’s parents are alive, but his mother is suicidal and his father has given up practicing medicine out of some pride that made it impossible for him to keep accounts of the money his patients owed him or to continue as a professional healer when his wife continued in her attempts to take her own life.
Mrs. Sayles, Sheryl’s mother, who is as emptied by her husband’s death as Sheryl is. She knows exactly what to do when Sheryl admits her pregnancy to her mother. It is as if the situation already had a script kept in readiness for girls unlucky enough to show material signs of their sexuality. Mrs. Sayles and Sheryl are one family among several—the Evers, the Carpenters, the Rossis, and the narrator’s—all of which will come to a time when the poignancy of a first love will be balanced by a long life of everyday reality.