protagonist of the novel, Taylor also narrates much of the story.
She is a strong, gutsy woman, and her voice is both sassy and kind.
Born and raised in rural Kentucky, she leaves to escape a small
life in her hometown. Like her mother, she is proud of her Cherokee
in-depth analysis of Taylor Greer.
child given to Taylor in the middle of the Cherokee nation. She
gets her name from her clinginess, which reminds Taylor of the mud
turtles in Kentucky. She is so quiet and unengaged that many believe
her to be dumb or retarded. This silence, however, is due to Turtle’s history:
although she is only three years old, Turtle has already been physically
and sexually abused. Although Taylor has spent her life avoiding
pregnancy, she keeps Turtle with her.
in-depth analysis of Turtle.
Lou Ann Ruiz
Kentuckian woman who settled in Tucson with her baby, Dwayne Ray.
Her husband, Angel, has just walked out on her when the story begins,
and Taylor and Turtle move in with her. She worries about the terrible
accidents and horror stories she hears about, fearing for the safety
of herself and her baby. More sensitive and more provincial than
Taylor, she is nonetheless a survivor.
owner of Jesus Is Lord Used Tires and a mother figure for Taylor.
She is wise and kind. She allows illegal immigrants to stay in her
home, operating a kind of sanctuary. Her garden of beautiful vegetables
and car parts is an inspiration for Turtle, whose first word is bean
who loves all kinds of vegetables.
in-depth analysis of Mattie.
Guatemalan refugee, he worked as an English teacher in Guatemala
before he and his wife fled to the United States. He speaks beautiful
English, and his kind ways inspire romantic feelings in Taylor.
He lives in Mattie’s building with his wife, Esperanza. He enlightens
Taylor about the corruption of Central American governments.
in-depth analysis of Estevan.
wife. Her grave demeanor is a reflection of her sorrowful past.
Turtle’s presence touches her because Turtle reminds her of the
daughter she had to leave behind.
and Esperanza’s daughter, whom they left in Guatemala. She represents
both the horror of political corruption and the desperation that
can necessitate the abandonment of children.
Ann’s husband, he is a Mexican man whom
Lou Ann met when he worked in the rodeo in Kentucky. Angel’s prosthetic
leg—the result of a pickup truck accident—wounds his pride terribly
and makes him unhappy.
mother, who lives in Kentucky. In Chapter One, Taylor says that
her mother expects the best from her daughter and thinks that whatever
Taylor does is wonderful. An encouraging, kind mother, she is the only
part of Taylor’s hometown that Taylor misses when she leaves.
in-depth analysis of Alice Greer.
Ann’s son. He was born on New Year’s Day.
classmate of Taylor’s. He drops out before graduation to help his
family on its farm and dies before Taylor leaves Pittman County.
He represents what could have been Taylor’s fate had she not
had a wonderful mother and the determination to
Mrs. Virgie Parsons
Lou Ann’s grumpy neighbor, who sometimes baby-sits
for the children. She makes insensitive remarks about immigrants.
blind woman who lives with Mrs. Parsons. She is much warmer than
social worker who comes over after Turtle’s run-in with a miscreant
in the park. Her prim attitude annoys Taylor, but her intentions
Mr. Jonas Wilford Armistead
The legal authority in
Oklahoma City who oversees Turtle’s adoption. An
old white man, he treats Esperanza and Estevan like ignorant foreigners.
Ann’s grandmother. She is provincial and harbors many prejudices
about Angel’s nationality. She hates the arid climate in Tucson
and brings Lou Ann water from the Tug Fork River in Kentucky so
that she may baptize Dwayne Ray properly.
Ann’s mother. She fights perpetually with Granny Logan, her mother-in-law.
Like Granny Logan, she is provincial and has no interest in seeing
Mrs. Hoge and Irene
The mother and daughter, respectively, who run the
Broken Arrow Motor Lodge, where
they let Turtle and Taylor stay free of charge on their trip west.
priest who works with Mattie, transporting illegal immigrants to
and from her house.
woman who owns the grocery store and Laundromat next door to Jesus
Is Lord Used Tires. Her mother brought the original bean seeds from
China, the descendents of which now grow in Mattie’s yard.