The novel’s narrator and protagonist. Will is a fourteen-year-old boy growing up Cold Sassy, Georgia at the very beginning of the twentieth century. Although he comes from a conventional family, Will is a free spirit and often feels compelled to defy the rules governing his life. Following his grandmother’s death and his grandfather’s second marriage, Will begins to grapple with issues of love and death, and his perspective on life begins to change.
Will’s maternal grandfather. Rucker is a brash, humorous, and domineering man who owns the general store in Cold Sassy. Rucker is passionately Southern, but he has no use for the gossip and hypocrisy of Cold Sassy’s small-town ways, and he acts according to his own code of decent conduct, not the town’s.
A pretty, affectionate, and strong-willed woman. Miss Love has succeeded despite a troubled childhood. In addition to charm and a sense of humor, she possesses a business acumen that wins her an important role in running Rucker’s store. She lives her life cheerfully and bravely, ignoring or defying the expectations of the close-minded and suspicious inhabitants of Cold Sassy.
Will’s grandmother and Rucker’s first wife. Mattie Lou dies three weeks before the novel begins. Mattie Lou was an excellent gardener and a devoted caretaker for the sick. The people of Cold Sassy speak reverently of her, and Rucker never forgets her companionship and goodwill.
Will’s father. Hoyt is a stern, pious man who loves his family and has a weak spot for modern technology. Although Hoyt is Rucker’s son-in-law and a devoted employee, he proves himself capable of standing up to his boss and defending his wife, Mary Willis, when the occasion calls for it.
Tweedy Mattie Lou and Rucker’s older daughter. Mary Willis is conventional and nervous, but kind. The death of her mother deeply affects Mary Willis. She mourns for a long time and finds it difficult to forgive her father for remarrying so quickly, which she sees as a betrayal of her mother’s memory.
Mary Willis’s younger sister. A few years older than her nephew, Will, Loma is a bossy, jealous, and often petulant young woman. She dreams of being a writer or an actress and chafes against her dead-end marriage to the useless Campbell Williams.
A pretty and studious young girl from the impoverished Mill Town. Lightfoot is the object of Will’s affections. Although she marries Hosie Roach, Lightfoot feels affection for Will and parts from him with difficulty.
Loma’s husband. Campbell, called Camp, fails at home and at work. He wants to please but finds himself hampered by his own incompetence. Loma and Rucker criticize him constantly and drive him to despair.
A twenty-one-year-old boy from Mill Town who attends Will’s school despite his advanced age. Although Will considers Hosie his enemy, Hosie shows great promise and the townspeople of Cold Sassy see big things in his future.
A black man in Cold Sassy. Loomis is an employee at the general store and the husband of the Tweedys’ cook, Queenie. Loomis is a kind and loving man and an excellent preacher.
Rucker’s next-door neighbor. Miss Effie Belle Tate loves snooping and gossiping. She embodies the narrow-mindedness, spite, and rumor-mongering that characterize Cold Sassy.
A brash, charming, and wealthy rancher from Texas. Clayton’s shabby treatment of Miss Love makes her fear love and marriage.
An eccentric woman called “aunt” because of her friendship with the Tweedy family. Aunt Carrie’s odd mannerisms and theories make her the object of ridicule, but in fact she is a woman of education and poise.
The baby son of Loma and Camp Williams. Campell Junior is remarkable because of his plumpness.
The Tweedys’ cook and Loomis’s wife. Queenie seems a jovial figure, but in fact she suffers because of the prejudices of white Southerners.
Will’s dog, named after Theodore Roosevelt.
Will’s younger sister.
Will’s deceased friend. Bluford makes a ghostly appearance early in the novel.