Jessie is the middle child and the only boy in his family, "smashed between four sisters...the older two had despised (him) ever since (he) stopped letting them dress (him) up and wheel (him) around in their rusty old doll carriage, and the littlest one cried if you looked at her cross-eyed". He is tormented by Brenda and Ellie, who are spoiled adolescents, and ends up picking up the slack for the work they won't do, and Joyce Ann, the baby, just annoys him. He is closest to May Belle, who, "going on seven...worshipped him" (Chapter 1).
Jessie's parents, exhausted and preoccupied with financial worries, don't have much time for him. His mother heaps the bulk of responsibility for chores onto his shoulders, and his father is distant. Jessie longs for a better relationship with him, wishing he were little like Joyce Ann and May Belle so his father would show affection to him - "it seemed...that he had been thought too big for that since the day he was born" (Chapter 2) . When Jessie is in desperate need after Leslie's death, however, his parents, especially his father, are there for him.