Richie, Eleanor’s stepdad, is a manipulative, self-centered, violent, and all-around evil person. He beats up Eleanor’s mom, and he is very controlling with the kids, keeping them cooped up in one bedroom and barely letting them run around and play. Richie has made the whole family terrified of what he will do. Before Richie kicked Eleanor out of the house, Eleanor and her siblings had been united in their hatred of Richie. But in Eleanor’s absence, Richie has become even more terrifyingly domineering. The younger kids seem to be on his side, even calling Richie “Dad,” because they’re too scared to fight back against him. When they hear him being violent to their mother, they hide silently in their room.
Richie has Eleanor’s mom trapped in a very difficult situation. Richie abuses Eleanor’s mom both physically and emotionally. Eleanor often sees bruises on her mom’s face, and Richie yells at her mom all the time. But Eleanor’s mom is afraid to fight back against Richie because she fears that he will become violent and will hurt the family. Eleanor’s mom also still maintains the fantasy that if she pretends that everything is okay, Richie will somehow be all right. Richie does a few small nice things every once in a while to manipulate the family and to make them think that everything is okay. But Richie’s randomness is one of his scariest traits. No one ever knows whether he will be calm or violent at any given moment, which is how he keeps the whole household under his control. Richie blames his outbursts on everyone else, rather than on himself, even though they come at the drop of a hat.
Unlike most of the other characters in the novel, who are complex mixtures of good and evil, Richie never displays any redeeming qualities. Indeed, Richie only gets worse and worse as the book goes on. Richie is mean and rude to Eleanor, but the full scope of his terrible nature is only revealed at the end of the novel. Eleanor often finds lewd messages written on her textbooks, which she assumes the other kids at school have put there. However, when Eleanor discovers that Richie has found her box of private possessions and has destroyed them, he also leaves her a threatening note that is in the same handwriting and style as all the dirty messages on her textbooks. As soon as Eleanor realizes that not only has Richie discovered her private possessions but also that he has been leering at her all year, she knows that he is not just an unpleasant person, but that he is not physically safe to live with, since she knows that he has both the capacity and the desire to follow through with his threats.