Lydia Lee

The protagonist of the story, the daughter of James and Marilyn, and the sister of Nath and Hannah. Lydia is a sixteen-year-old Chinese American girl who feels smothered by her parents’ impossibly high expectations of her. The novel is centered around her death.

Marilyn Lee

The mother of Lydia, Nath, and Hannah, the wife of James, and the daughter of Doris. Marilyn aspires to be a doctor and resents Doris, a home economics teacher and housewife with a failed marriage, for never encouraging her to follow her dreams. Marilyn is a controlling mother and projects her failed ambitions onto Lydia.

James Lee

The father of Lydia, Nath, and Hannah, and the husband of Marilyn. James is the son of Chinese immigrants and has faced racism in many forms, leaving him jaded about his race. James attends and excels at prestigious schools and goes on to become a professor of American History. Like Marilyn, James uses Lydia to attempt to right the wrongs of his past, and he encourages her to blend in and make friends with her white peers.

Nathan “Nath” Lee

The brother of Lydia and Hannah and the son of Marilyn and James. Nath and Lydia have an unspoken bond and are supportive of one another. Nath is exceptionally smart and is accepted to Harvard.

Hannah Lee

The sister of Lydia and Nath and the daughter of Marilyn and James. Hannah is the quiet and perceptive youngest child. She is overlooked and ignored, which makes her desperate for her parents’ love, but also allows her to notice things that others do not.

Jack Wolff

A friend of Lydia, a neighbor of the Lees, and the son of Dr. Janet Wolff. Jack has a reputation for sleeping with a lot of girls. Nath has hated Jack since they were kids, and when Lydia befriends Jack, Nath is furious. Nath suspects that Jack is responsible for Lydia’s death.

Doris Walker

Marilyn’s mother. Doris is a home economics teacher whose only ambition is to be a housewife. She makes racist comments when Marilyn marries James, and Marilyn never speaks to her again. After Doris’ death, Marilyn finds her cookbook, which sets into motion major events in Marilyn and Lydia’s story.

Louisa Chen

James’ assistant, a 23-year-old Chinese American woman. James and Louisa begin having an affair after Lydia’s death.

Officer Fiske

The police officer in charge of investigating Lydia’s death.

Dr. Janet Wolff

Jack Wolff’s mother.