protagonist and narrator. James is a 23
with a serious drug and alcohol problem. When the book opens, James
is a physical and mental wreck, forced to enter the world’s most
successful drug and alcohol clinic. During his stay, he battles
his personal demons, makes an unusual group of friends, and falls in
love with a drug-addicted former prostitute named Lilly. He adopts
a philosophy of self-reliance and rejects the traditional forms
of treatment (as exemplified in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous).
Unlike many of the people he meets in the clinic, James emerges
sober and takes control of his life.
in-depth analysis of James Frey.
best friend in rehab, rumored to be a mobster. Leonard is a larger-than-life
figure who wears loud clothing and throws dinners for the men in
the unit. It is Leonard who persuades James to stay at the clinic.
At the end of the book, he “adopts” James as his son.
in-depth analysis of Leonard.
fellow patient and eventually James’s girlfriend. Lilly was forced
into prostitution at a young age to support her mother’s heroin
habit. In time, she became a drug addict herself. She was sent to
the clinic by her grandmother, a good woman who saved up her money for
three years to pay for Lilly’s treatment. Lilly is the person most
capable of calming James down during his rages.
in-depth analysis of Lilly.
of James’s roommates. Miles is a judge from New Orleans and a clarinet
player. He’s a family man and truly desirous of a recovery. While
sharing a room with Miles, James experiences some peace, especially
when he falls asleep to Miles playing the clarinet. As he does with
Leonard, James suspects Miles of working to get James’s prison sentence
psychologist at the clinic. Like all staff members at the facility,
she is a recovering addict. Joanne is the first to recognize that
the best way to deal with James is to let him make his own decisions.
She presses gently and knows when the time is right to let him have
his own way. She’s well traveled and worldly.
worker and one of James’s first friends. Hank takes James to the
dentist and gives him tennis balls to squeeze during James’s horrifying
root canal procedure. His gruff exterior belies his gentle personality.
He is dating Joanne.
unit counselor. Ken is a stickler for the rules and doesn’t quite
know what to make of James. He sees James frequently and genuinely
tries to help, but his unwavering belief in the Twelve Step program
prevents him and James from making a true connection.
supervisor at the clinic. Lincoln is the resident tough guy, the
person who is called in when the patients get physically out of
control. Although gruff, Lincoln can also be a kind person. He constantly
butts heads with James but is made to see James’s reasoning each time
they encounter each other. Near the end of the story, Lincoln and
James set aside their differences and reach a level of mutual respect.
The Girl with the Arctic Eyes
James’s ex-girlfriend. She is never named and only
appears in dreams and memories. At the end of the book, she sends
James a package of photographs.
mother. Lynne lives in Tokyo. She consistently tries to be a good
mother but doesn’t know how to help her son. Along with her husband,
she checks James into the clinic.
Bob Frey, Sr.
father. A busy top-level executive. He is forced to leave the Family
Program early because of business.
Bob Frey, Jr.
brother. Bob lives in Minneapolis. He has a regular job and a nice
life, unlike James. He is totally unafraid to show emotion to and
care for his brother.
of James’s first roommates at the clinic. Warren is an upper-class
type who wears nice, starched shirts. He’s an alcoholic and a gentle
man who quickly befriends James.
of James’s first roommates at the clinic. John is an ex-con who
was molested by his father as a child. He is also a trust-fund baby,
something that James can relate to. John is one of the strangest
patients James encounters: when he meets people, he gives them a business
card advertising himself as a “Sexual Ninja” and explains that he
is addicted to anal sex.
of James’s first roommates at the clinic. He leaves soon after James
arrives without completing the program.
The Bald Man
Larry as one of James’s roommates. Sweet and completely lacking
in cynicism, he’s the first man that James sees as brave for crying.
dealer and crackhead. Ted is a friend of Leonard’s and eventually,
James’s. He provides crass, amusing commentary during meals.
and part of James’s mealtime group. Ed is a steelworker, and this
is his fourth time in rehab.
patient at the clinic. Roy develops a grudge against James immediately
after his arrival and sabotages his efforts to keep the group toilets
clean. He suffers from multiple-personality disorder. He reappears
at the clinic after his release, swinging a stick and screaming
that his name is Jack.
former featherweight champion of the world in boxing and a crack
addict. He constantly struggles to stop swearing. While he is in
the facility, Matty receives the grim news that his wife tries crack
out of curiosity, becomes addicted, and disappears.
girl from James’s middle school who was killed when the car she
was in was struck by a train, many years before the events in the
story take place. James claims that he was held partly responsible
for the accident.