Last Reviewed on February 4, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1254
Joseph “Joe” Moon
Joe, the novel’s seventeen-year-old narrator, lives in Arlington, New York, with his older sister, Angela, and his mother’s sister, Karen. Joe’s father died when he was one, and his mother left the family when he was ten. His older brother, Ed, is on death row in Texas, awaiting his execution. At the start of the novel, Joe has moved to Wakeling, Texas, to support Ed in his final days, leaving behind his job at an auto shop and a promising career in athletics.
Initially upset at having to be in Wakeling, Joe expresses resentment against his absent mother; his Aunt Karen, who has stopped supporting him financially because of his decision to visit Ed; and Ed himself. However, as the narrative proceeds and Joe tentatively rebuilds a relationship with Ed, whom he once idolized, his perspective starts to grow more generous. Joe starts to date Nell, a waitress at the local diner, and begins to understand the power of forgiveness and love.
Though Joe is shown to be a realist, he also carries a secret hope that Ed will receive a last-minute reprieve. Although Joe asks Ed if he really committed the murder for which he has been convicted, it is clear that Joe’s support for Ed does not depend on Ed’s answer. Regardless of Ed’s guilt or innocence, Joe is by his side, protesting the fundamental unfairness that traps Ed. Thus, Joe shows himself to be wise and compassionate beyond his years.
Edward “Ed” Moon
Ed was eighteen when he was convicted of the murder of Texan police officer Frank Pheelan. Before his conviction, Ed was an idol for his younger siblings, often taking them out for treats and drives, and helping them cope with an abusive home. However, his mother’s abuse forces Ed to run away from home in their Aunt Karen’s car, triggering a devastating series of events. In Texas, Ed is pulled over by Pheelan. Panicking since he lacks the car’s registration papers, Joe “splits” as Pheelan goes to get his radio. However, Pheelan is murdered by an unknown attacker hours later. Since Ed was the last person Pheelan reported, the police arrest Ed for the murder. Confused by their interrogation, Ed signs a false confession and is soon sentenced to death.
Yet when Joe meets Ed ten years later, Joe is surprised to discover the persistence of Ed’s compassion, grace, and protectiveness for his younger siblings. Ed constantly tries to shield Joe from the inevitability of his own death and jokes around with the prison guards. In his last letter, addressed to Joe and their sister, Angela, Ed urges the two to live an authentic life. Thus, Ed functions as the heart of the novel. His character also serves to show how prisons and judicial systems dehumanize the incarcerated—and how the incarcerated can handle even that dehumanization with grace.
Sister to Ed and Joe, Angela is a pragmatic, nurturing young woman who takes over the role of Joe’s quasi-parent in Ed’s absence. With Joe too young to understand the situation at the time of Ed’s arrest, it is chiefly Angela who keeps in touch with Ed during his imprisonment. It is also Angela who “writes to every non-profit in the country” to procure legal aid for Ed. In a decision that illustrates her deep love for her family, Angela decides to witness Ed’s execution so that he doesn’t feel “alone.” Although Joe tries to talk Angela out of this position, she remains adamant, staying with Ed until the end.
Known only as “Mom,” Ed, Angela, and Joe’s mother is a negligent parent who abuses alcohol and leaves her children to their own devices. One of the worst aspects of her behavior is her treatment of Ed, whom she frequently exhorts to leave the house and “get a job.” Her abuse of Ed is one of the reasons he runs away from home in Aunt Karen’s car. After Ed is...
(The entire section contains 1254 words.)
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