- The son of Calvin and Beth, he is the novel's protagonist. About 18 months before the novel begins, he was involved in a boating accident with his brother, Buck, an accident which left Buck dead. A year later, Conrad tried to commit suicide but failed, forcing him to spend time in hospital. At the beginning of the novel, he has been out of the hospital for a month. He is trying to get his life back on track, but he feels little purpose in life and no motivation. He begins to see Dr. Berger to help him recover from the traumatic events he has experienced. Over the course of the novel, he begins a steady relationship with Jeannine Pratt and rebuilds some of his old friendships.
- The father of Conrad, Calvin is a natural listener. He tends to blame himself for most negative things that occur in his family. He is 41 years old and works as a tax attorney, a prestigious position for a man who grew up in an orphanage. He believes that there is a serious lack of communication between him and his wife, which strains their relationship. He spends most of his time worrying about his son.
- The wife of Calvin and mother of Conrad, Beth spends most of her time playing golf and working around the home. Although she is troubled by the horrible events she has experienced with her sons, she wants to move on without dwelling on the past at all, an attitude that brings her into conflict with Calvin, who thinks that the family needs to talk through the past. At the end of the novel, she leaves Calvin and Conrad for an indefinite period, although there is no talk of an official divorce.
Jordan "Buck" Jarrett
- Buck only appears in flashbacks. He was the oldest child of Calvin and Beth. He died in a boating accident, an event for which Conrad has never forgiven himself. Like Conrad, he was on the swimming team, and he shared many friends in common with Conrad.
- A psychiatrist in Chicago with whom Conrad begins meeting once a week in an effort to gain more "control."
- The doctor who treated Conrad while he was in the hospital. We never see him in the novel, but we learn that he referred Conrad to Dr. Berger.
- A friend of Conrad's and member of the swimming team. He drives Conrad to school each day. He and Conrad have a falling out during the course of the novel, but they manage to mend their relationship.
- A member of Lazenby's carpool. Stillman can be very cruel to Conrad. He is a member of the swimming team as well. One day after a swim meet, he and Conrad get into a fist fight which Conrad wins.
Dick Van Buren
- Another member of the car pool and a friend of Conrad's.
- A new student at Lake Forest, she is in the school choir with Conrad. She and Conrad become close friends and begin to date seriously, forming a deep relationship by the end of the novel.
- One of Conrad's friends from the hospital. They meet in a diner early in the novel to catch up on old times. Towards the end of the novel, Conrad learns that she has committed suicide, and the news sends him into shock.
- The choir director at Lake Forest.
- The swimming coach at Lake Forest. He is a generous man who wants to see Conrad do well, and he is disappointed when Conrad quits the team.
- A tax attorney in Evanston. He and Calvin maintain a law partnership together. They get along well, although Ray is oftentimes insensitive towards Calvin's family problems.
- A girl in Conrad's trig class. Conrad feels bad for her, because she has particular difficulty with math. Jeannine reveals at the end of the novel that she has a crush on Conrad.
Howard and Ellen
- Beth's parents, Conrad's grandparents. They spend Christmas with the Jarretts, and Conrad stays at their house when his parents go to Houston.
Ward and Audrey
- Beth's brother and his wife. They live in Houston and host Beth and Calvin when the two play in a golf tournament in Houston towards the end of the novel.