At the beginning of the novel, Rachel is just eleven years old; she has tragically lost her family and must start a new life in a new place with her grandmother. Rachel is confused about her identity. She had lived with her white mother in a world where race did not matter. Her father was her father, he was not defined by his race. Growing up with Grandma, Rachel gets mixed messages about who she is. Grandma just wants Rachel to be satisfied with a respectable life, but in Aunt Loretta, Rachel can see that there is more she can accomplish.
At school, the black girls reject Rachel because her skin is “too light” and she is too pretty. She turns to boys to ease the pain of her past and her inability to recognize her own identity. The boys make her feel good. Rachel is satisfied with the consistency she finds in being a good student.
Rachel keeps her secrets and her pain bottled up inside until finally, an angry confrontation with her grandmother and a revealing conversation with Brick allow her to let it all out and face the pain she has been hiding.
Jamie / Brick
Jamie is also eleven years old when this story begins. He lives with his drug-addicted, mother who can barely keep track of him. As a young boy, he is interested in birds. When Robbie falls past Jamie’s apartment window he actually thinks it is a large bird and he runs outside to find it to record its appearance in his field guide. Jamie is deeply affected by the site of the fallen family.
In an attempt to catch up with Rachel, Jamie, who now calls himself Brick, (because he believes it is a stronger name), runs away from home. Brick lives on the streets and with kind strangers for as long as he can, but when he grows so tall as to resemble a potentially threatening adult, he must fend for himself.
In Portland, Brick tries to get himself off the drugs and accepts Drew’s help. When he finally finds Rachel, he struggles to find the right time to tell her everything. Brick seems to feel it is his personal calling to set things right for Rachel. He wants to tell her the things he hopes will help her...
(The entire section is 879 words.)