A young man of Cheyenne descent. Tony narrates the first and last chapters of the book. Physically imposing and gifted with street smarts, Tony scores poorly on intelligence tests and is sometimes prone to violence because of fetal alcohol syndrome.
Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield
A middle-aged woman with Cheyenne ancestry who is superstitious. In the novel’s present, Opal works at the post office and cares for Orvil, Loother, and Lony Red Feather. The chapter she narrates in the book’s first section, however, focuses on her childhood experience of the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island.
Jacquie Red Feather
A recovering alcoholic who works in a substance abuse prevention program for Native Americans. Jacquie is connected to many of the characters in the novel. She is Opal’s sister, Blue’s birth mother, and grandmother to Orvil, Loother, and Lony, all born to her deceased second daughter, Jamie. Jacquie swims as a way to combat her addiction to alcohol, which is not fully managed even though she works for a substance abuse prevention center.
Orvil Red Feather
The oldest of the three Red Feather boys. Of the three, Orvil is the most interested in his heritage, participating in Dene’s video project and learning Native dance from YouTube videos.
A young man of mixed (Native and white) descent with a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature. Edwin is unemployed, constipated, uncomfortable with his identity and his life, hiding in cyberspace, and looking for his voice as a writer. He struggles to make connections with others.
Edwin’s white mother, who is in a relationship with Bill Davis. Although his choices frustrate her and she looks forward to the time when she can live alone with Bill, Karen is devoted to her son. She does not narrate a chapter.
A Native man who is the biological father of Edwin Black and Blue. As a young man, Harvey can be violent, as when he rapes Jacquie on Alcatraz Island. In the present, however, he has stopped drinking, accepted responsibility for his past actions, and become an emcee for Native events, like the Oakland Powwow.
A Native filmmaker recording the stories of Indigenous peoples for a documentary. Dene is committed to capturing the experience of Urban Indians, but he also worries because the film was his uncle’s idea, not his own. According to the novel’s acknowledgements, Dene is a stand-in for the author Tommy Orange, himself.
The organizer of the powwow and biological daughter of Jacquie Red Feather and Harvey.
A Native man who lives with his sister and her daughter.
Calvin’s twin brother. Charles is fully committed to the gangster life.
A Lakota and Vietnam veteran. Once a convicted felon, Bill now works in maintenance at the Oakland Coliseum. Bill is in love with Karen, Edwin’s mother. During his years in prison, he was able to break his addiction and read a wide variety of books to better himself.
A drug dealer. Tony and Charles both work for Octavio. He feels he has been cursed into a life of crime. While he is violent and manipulative, he is also protective of his cousin Daniel.
A young Native man with a talent for technology. Daniel is Octavio’s cousin who prints guns on a 3D printer and surveys the powwow with his drone. He lives with his mother, who has yet to recover from the death of his brother, Manny. In order to continue to remain connected in some way to Manny, Daniel writes emails to him.
A Cheyenne man who drums with a group called Southern Moon. Thomas works at the Indian Center until he is fired. He has a fundamental connection to drumming, linked from his infancy to his heart’s arrythmia, and finds in it a way to pray.
Loother Red Feather
A younger brother of Orvil Red Feather.
Lony Red Feather
Another younger brother of Orvil Red Feather.
Jamie Red Feather
The daughter of Jacquie Red Feather and mother of Orvil, Loother, and Lony. Addicted to drugs, Jamie dies before the start of the novel. She deliberately misspells her sons’ names to make them distinctive.
A close friend of Charles Johnson. Their closeness is emphasized by the name, “Charlos,” which Octavio uses to refer to them both.
Deceased brother of Daniel.
An Oklahoman woman who helps Blue to escape from Paul.
Blue’s abusive husband.