A 23-year-old floral designer and survivor of an abusive childhood. Lily struggles throughout the novel to remain true to herself after falling in love with Ryle, a man who is abusive like her father. Though Lily fears turning into her mother, she also loves Ryle, so extricating herself from the relationship is painful and confusing. She also reunites with an old flame, the protective Atlas, who understands Lily’s struggle and wants to help her get free and break the cycle of abuse.
A renowned chef and Lily’s first love. As a teenager, Atlas was homeless, living in the abandoned house near Lily after he got kicked out of his abusive home. Atlas spends years improving his life until he feels it’s good enough for Lily. Protective, calm, and loving, Atlas offers a counterpoint to the passionate but violent Ryle.
A training neurosurgeon and Lily’s abusive love interest. Ryle struggles throughout the novel to control his temper and loses Lily because of his violence. When he was six, Ryle accidentally shot and killed his seven-year-old brother, which he posits is the root of his rage. After his daughter is born, Ryle lets go of Lily, realizing that she deserves better than he can provide.
Lily’s best friend and Ryle’s sister. Allysa is encouraging, no-nonsense, and forthright. She realizes her brother’s faults and stays by Lily’s side as Lily’s relationship with Ryle deteriorates. She is Lily’s staunch supporter. Independently wealthy, she works at the flower shop for fun.
Lily’s mother and a survivor of a lifetime of abuse from her husband. When Lily was a teenager, Jenny made many excuses for her husband’s behavior. However, when Lily grows up to enter into an abusive relationship herself, Jenny tells Lily that she deserves more. Jenny is supportive and loving to her daughter and ultimately finds a new relationship after her husband dies.
Lily’s abusive father and the mayor of Plethora, Maine. Andrew terrorizes not only Lily and Jenny but badly beats Atlas when he finds Atlas in Lily’s bed. Violent, self-absorbed, and self-aggrandizing, Andrew feeds his position of power in the town with displays of violence and by hiding that he abuses his family. When he dies, Lily can’t think of a single nice thing to say about him at his funeral.
TV personality, comedian, and the voice of Dory in Finding Nemo. Lily addresses her teenage journal to Ellen because she is a huge fan of her show. Ellen’s work becomes a theme in Atlas and Lily’s relationship, as they tell each other to just keep swimming when times are tough, referencing a line Dory says in Finding Nemo.
Allysa’s husband, and a work-from-home millionaire. Marshall is even-keel and tends to remain calm. He loves Allysa and football.
Emerson (Ryle and Allysa’s brother)
Ryle and Allysa’s brother whom Ryle accidentally kills by gunshot when Emerson is seven years old.
Lily’s roommate, who moves out to live with her boyfriend. Lucy eventually ends up working at Lily’s flower shop.
Lily’s former coworker. Devin, who is gay, pretends to be Lily’s date to make Ryle jealous.
Lily’s classmate in high school. Katie often bullies Lily for her relationship with Atlas.
Atlas’s funny friend from work who plays poker with Lily.
Atlas’s kind friend from work who plays poker with Lily.
Atlas’s arrogant friend from work who plays poker with Lily.
Allysa and Marshall’s daughter. Rylee is named after Ryle.
Emerson (Lily’s daughter)
Lily and Ryle’s daughter. Emerson is named after Ryle and Allysa’s dead brother.