- The fifteen-year-old protagonist of the novel. The novel is told through a series of letters that Charlie is writing to an anonymous “friend,” and the whole story is narrated entirely through Charlie’s perspective. Charlie is a quiet, withdrawn, intelligent, observant high school freshman dealing with a lot of trauma in his childhood. Charlie comes out of his shell through the relationships he develops over the course of the school year, but it isn’t until the very end of the book that he uncovers the repressed memories of sexual abuse that are at the core of all the trauma he has been processing the whole time.
in-depth analysis of Charlie.
- A high school senior, Sam’s stepbrother, and one of Charlie’s best friends. Patrick is in a closeted relationship with Brad, the quarterback of the football team. Patrick accepts Charlie for all his quirks and makes him feel like he can be himself.
in-depth analysis of Patrick.
- A high school senior, Patrick’s stepsister, and one of Charlie’s best friends. Charlie has a huge crush on Sam throughout the entire book. Sam was sexually abused when she was a child, which connects her to Charlie, although neither realizes the connection until the very end of the novel.
in-depth analysis of Sam.
- Sam’s boyfriend throughout the bulk of the novel. A male model putting himself through community college, Craig is essentially everything Charlie is not: muscular, older than Sam, unfaithful, and not very bright.
- Charlie’s English teacher and mentor. Bill recognizes and nurtures Charlie’s talent for reading and writing. Bill is the most stable, reliable adult figure in Charlie’s life, and he helps Charlie develop self-confidence.
- Smart, attractive, self-centered senior in Charlie’s friend group. Mary Elizabeth invites Charlie to the Sadie Hawkins dance, and they date, but she is more interested in talking about herself than about building a relationship. Charlie initially seems to be participating more in his life by dating Mary Elizabeth, but he lets her dominate him, and he gets frustrated.
- Quarterback of the football team, and a closeted homosexual. Brad and Patrick have a covert relationship until Brad’s father finds about it. Instead of standing up to his father, Brad continues to suppress his sexuality, and Brad calls Patrick a derogatory homosexual slur in front of the whole school.
- Patrick’s friend and purveyor of pot to local high schoolers. Bob goes to community college, and he represents what might happen to Charlie’s schoolmates if any one of them starts depending on drugs too heavily.
- Former high school football star who now plays for Penn State. Charlie’s family bonds over watching Charlie’s brother on television.
- High school senior who is in an abusive relationship. Charlie’s sister is very smart and does very well in school, yet she keeps herself trapped in an abusive relationship. When she gets pregnant, she asks Charlie to drive her to and from the abortion clinic.
- Kind and caring to Charlie, but still emotionally reeling from the death of her sister. Charlie’s mom takes care of Charlie, but she hasn’t yet recovered from her past.
- Kind and caring to Charlie, but still wrapped in emotional guilt. Charlie’s dad left his sister and mother under the care of an abusive man, and he’s never forgiven himself.
- Aunt who died when Charlie was seven, and who molested Charlie. Charlie has fond memories of his Aunt Helen, who singled him out for special care and affection, and he blames himself for her death. Only at the end of the novel does he realize how Aunt Helen abused him.
- Maternal grandfather who frequently makes racist and homophobic remarks. Unlike Charlie, who accepts and embraces everyone’s differences, his grandfather is a relic of a bigoted era.
- Charlie’s middle-school friend who committed suicide. Michael only appears in a few flashbacks in the novel. Even though Charlie does not want to commit suicide, and he tries to take Michael as his example for what he will not do, he grows to understand how Michael could have gotten to such a depressed state of mind.
- Michael’s girlfriend when Michael committed suicide. Charlie, Michael, and Susan had all been good friends, but after Michael’s death, Susan keeps her distance from Charlie.
- Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend. After Mary Elizabeth breaks up with Charlie, she starts dating a boy in college, whom she likes because he can be her verbal sparring partner.