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The setting is primarily in Montana with parts of the story taking place at Bearpaw Lake and part at the Indian reservation. It begins, however, in Seattle, Washington where Christine has been living with her daughter Rayona. The story is told in three parts or "voices" as each of the major characters tells her own version of their story.
A fifteen year old girl who is part black and part American Indian.
Rayona’s American Indian mother and the second voice in the story . She is dying of liver disease brought on by excessive drinking, her way of drowning her frustration over her mostly absent husband
The third storyteller, but the one who actually owns the most critical details that explain Christina’s origin and chaotic life. Ida is an older woman who has never left the reservation for more than short periods of time and who never married. She has insisted that Christine call her Aunt Ida even though Christine remembers no other mother.
Ida’s aunt who comes to lives with Ida, Pauline and her family in order to provide nursing care for the girls’ dying mother. She is also Christine’s real mother
Ida’s second child and Christine’s half-brother. Known for his good looks and his adoration of Christine
A childhood friend who shadowed Lee and Christine and later on took gave Christine a home in which to die
Pauline and Ida’s father. Has a brief relationship with Clara upon whom he fathers Christine.
Willard Pretty Dog
Lee’s father. The only boy Ida ever really loves.
Christine’s black husband.
The part Indian priest who knows the secret of Christine’s birth.
An aide to Father Hurlburt who has a dangerous sexual fascination for details of teenage feelings of puberty. Provides transportation to the mission school and teen meetings for Rayona.
Pauline’s son. Has no use for Rayona except to torment her.
Sky and Evelyn
The couple at Bearpaw Lake State Park who provide a home and job for Rayona.
Ellen DeMarco and her parents
Ellen works at the park while her parents are out of the country. She has accidentally dropped a short letter from her parents which Rayona picks up and keeps, using it to pretend that her own parents are just temporarily away.
Rayona’s boss at the park.
Dave and Andy
Coworkers at the park