The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Johnson’s major characters are not perfect, but they are consistently sympathetic. Their flaws make them believably human, and their love for one another and their commitment to what is right approach heroic—sometimes overinflated—proportions. In the hands of a writer less skilled than Johnson, Bobby would too good to be true. Motivated only by love, he gives up friends, family, neighborhood, and school to devote his life to the care of an infant. Marley, initially unremarkable as a character, becomes deeper and richer as she explores the secrets of her past and resolves her conflicting notions of self, family, and community. Bobby and Marley are teen protagonists to whom young adult readers can relate.

The books’ minor characters are thinly developed, playing walk-on roles as friends, family members, or neighbors. The reader learns little about Bobby’s parents or Nia’s family. Marley’s parents are stereotypes: they are consistently loving, forgiving, supportive, and forbearing. Only in the paradisaic Heaven, Ohio, are they credible. Jack is a phantom wanderer, and his character grows no more accessible when he returns to his daughter in Heaven.