Seth Michelin

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The narrator of the novel, Seth is in fifth grade, the son of Haitian immigrants. His exploits in this novel include confronting the old neighborhood woman that all of the children fear, attending his first wake, and trying to keep his older brother out of a fight, but the main focus, that keeps all of these different stories together, is Seth' s development of a sense of who he is. Like many children of immigrants, Seth practices the customs of the old country when he is at home, including speaking French and eating Haitian food. When he goes to school, though, he is like the other American kids, playing basketball with his friends, shy around girls. The novel strongly implies that, even though he often complains about Samona' s strange behavior, he actually admires it, going out of his way to find out what she is up to even while he is complaining that he would like her to leave him alone. Since Seth is so conscious of his family's old-world ways, his attraction to Samona seems to be the way that she can be comfortable with her position as a social outcast. The fact that the members of his family and Bessie Armstrong think well of Samona raises suspicions about whether she is really the social outcast Seth tells readers she is, or if he just emphasizes her bad points in order to help himself deny his attraction to her.

Samona Gemini

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Samona is a strong-willed individualist, unafraid to speak her mind and willing to try out new clothes and new ideas without fear of embarrassment. She sells shampoo that has manure in it door-to-door, she takes a wrong turn at the zoo and ends up in the middle of Monkey Paradise, and she leads Seth to Mrs. Fabiyi's house spreading the wild story that the old lady stole her cat and ate it. Samona's overactive imagination and her impetuousness are reflected in her home life, in her mother's creativity as a poet and as an investigative journalist and her siblings' various schemes to make money. In the last section of the book, readers are made to worry for Samona because she looks headed for embarrassment at the Little Miss Dorchester competition. This concern is heightened by the fact that, as Seth points out, so much of Samona's identity involves acting without self-consciousness, so that embarrassment would change her completely: ‘‘Samona couldn't do anything because she was trying to be somebody normal. Only this somebody normal didn't have Samona's guts or her attitude.’’ Seth is so concerned about what would be lost by Samona becoming "normal" that he embarrasses himself in order to make her laugh and feel at ease.

Other Characters

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Bessie Armstrong
Bessie is a pretty girl in Seth and Samona's class at school. When she talks to Seth, admiring him for having the nerve to go to Mrs. Fabiyi's house, he is flustered and unable to talk. Later, when she is preparing for the beauty competition, Samona becomes friends with Bessie. She tells Seth that Bessie's mother does not like noise, so she has to play quietly, and that there is no fun around her house, and they both pity her.

Mrs. Fabiyi
In the beginning of the book Seth and Samona fear Mrs. Fabiyi, a strange old Nigerian woman who lives on their block. The previous Halloween, she had thrown a pot of cold vegetable soup on them, and all of the children are afraid of the strange things she keeps in her house. Samona talks Seth into skipping his piano lesson and going to Mrs. Fabiyi' s...

(This entire section contains 1385 words.)

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house, using the excuse that they are worried because she has not been around for some time but actually because Samona is worried that the old woman has stolen her cat. They find out that she had been away visiting her sister, that the cat was visiting Mrs. Fabiyi's cat, and that the soup was her attempt to play a trick on Halloween, to have some fun with them. Later in the book, Samona visits Mrs. Fabiyi in preparation for the Little Miss Dorchester contest, and Seth visits on his own to find out what Samona is up to, learning to relate to her as a person and not as a witch.

Anthony Gemini
Samona's older brother used to be involved with gangs, but he quit that after being arrested and spending a short time in the juvenile detention center. He has a scar on his face from a gang fight. Now he works on drawing because he wants to be an architect. Anthony is a friend of Reggie, the tough street gang leader whom Seth thinks his brother is going to see for help against Jerome, and so Seth goes to Anthony for help in finding Reggie before his brother can. They take Anthony's convertible and race over to where Reggie is staying, and Anthony acts as a mediator between Reggie and the kids.

Binta Gemini
Samona's mother is a poet of some accomplishment, having once been featured on a Public Broadcasting System special about poets from the Black Power movement of the 1960s. Because she cannot make much money writing poems, she also does undercover investigative reporting for a news magazine, the Intruder. The date whom she brings with her to the Little Miss Dorchester beauty pageant, Mr. Biggs, is an ex-minister from the Nation of Islam that she is investigating for the magazine. Mrs. Gemini calls Seth ‘‘Young King’’ because "she always says I look like I have the burden of a kingdom on my shoulders.’’ She was never married to Samona's father, who left them shortly before they moved to Boston two years earlier.

Leticia Gemini
When Leticia found out that her boyfriend Tyrone was cheating on her, Samona tells Seth, she invited him over and baked him a meatloaf with dog food, to point out that he had behaved like a dog. Samona's older sister runs a psychic hot line from the phone, and when she is busy she has Samona talk to her customers. On the day that Seth visits her family, Leticia is busy practicing opera singing, having seen Leontyne Price on the television. Before Chantal started dating Jerome, Leticia and she were best of friends, and when it is feared that Jean-Claude has gone to fight with Jerome Leticia's first reaction is to go to Chantal for support.

Nigel Gemini
Samona's other older brother, Nigel, is the one who has never been in trouble. He is studying at Boston College to be an engineer, and at home he is an inventor. He has had his family crushing grapes in a plastic swimming pool so that they can make Gemini Wine, but he later admits that this was a bad idea because wine has to sit for about fifty years before it is any good, and so even though their children will someday become rich off of the idea it won't help in the present. While Seth is over at the Gemini house Nigel comes up with the idea of making a love potion out of vegetables, and he and Anthony race out into their mother's garden to steal what he hopes will be the necessary ingredients before she finds out.

Seth's grandmother lives with his family and shares a room with his sister Chantal. She does not speak English, only Kreyol, the combination of French and English that is the dialect of Haiti. When her sister dies, relatives come from all over the United States and Canada to pay homage to Granme—"It was a real big deal that she was the oldest living person in the family,’’ Seth explains. Granme is steeped in tradition and sometimes confused by American ways, such as when she complains about Samona's hairstyle.

Seth's mother is a nurse at the hospital. She has a new hairstyle and she likes it, even though it did not seem that she would: as Seth once pointed out to Samona's mother, ‘‘Haitians like to be old-fashioned.’’ Seth's mother holds strongly to Haitian tradition and the Catholic church.

Chantal Michelin
Seth's sister has one of the hardest roles in her family. Because of the sexist traditions of Haitian culture, she is treated as if she is only good for menial labor, even though as an American citizen she is fully aware that she can accomplish much more than she is allowed to. According to tradition, she should grow up to be a housewife or a nurse, but Chantal wants to work in politics and help people. Added to her quest for independence is the age-old problem of her family being protective of her as she reaches the age where she wants to go out with boys. Her relationship with Jerome is secret until the episode where Jean-Claude goes out to fight with him; after that she decides that it is best to be honest and tell her parents about Jerome, but they still decide that she is too young to start dating.

Jean-Claude Michelin
Seth's older brother is a pacifist, well respected in the streets for stopping fights and for working with gang members who want to make their lives better. He is concerned with his identity as a black man and rejects traditional American concepts of "beauty" as a way of excluding black people and making them feel inferior. Jean-Claude is somewhat old-fashioned in his views: when Chantal develops the idea of being an independent woman, Jean-Claude assumes that the idea was put into her head by her boyfriend Jerome, and he becomes so angry about it that he almost gets into a fight with Jerome, in spite of the fact that fighting goes against his deepest beliefs. He comes to his senses in time, though, and the fact that he nearly committed such a rash action makes him reconsider his beliefs and realize that he was treating his sister in a sexist way instead of letting her be her self.

Seth's father once dreamed of being an airplane pilot, but he could not afford lessons and could not join the Air Force to learn to fly, so he works at the airport, in the baggage section of Air France. He plays on a soccer team, the Mighty Spiders, on weekends.

Reggie is a gang member well-known in the neighborhood. He has been in jail twice already, even though he is only sixteen. Jean-Claude works with Reggie, trying to keep him out of trouble. He has taught Reggie how to read, with the hope that he could better himself. When Jean-Claude races out of the house, angry at Jerome, he says that he is going to see Reggie, and Seth worries that he might ask Reggie to beat Jerome up or even kill him. When Anthony helps him find Reggie, Seth runs after him with Samona, and she calls out Reggie's name. He pulls his gun on the children before Anthony arrives and prevents him from shooting.

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