Arnold Spirit – nicknamed Junior, is a fourteen-year-old boy who lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He enjoys playing basketball and drawing cartoons in his free time. Junior and his family, along with the others on the reservation are dealing with poverty. A lot of times, there is not enough food to eat in their home or enough money for gas in the car, forcing him to hitchhike to school or not go at all. He is incredibly smart and transfers from an all-Indian school to an all-white school.
Junior's Mom (Agnes Adams) – is a Spokane Indian, who has lived on the reservation her entire life. She is a bad liar, likes to read books, and is considered by Junior to be very smart. She likes to drink and is seen as eccentric by junior. "She's a human tape recorder. Really, my mom can read the newspaper in fifteen minutes and tell me baseball scores, the location of every war, the latest guy to win the lottery, and the high temperature in Des Moines, Iowa."[a]
Junior's Dad (Arnold Spirit, Sr.) – is an alcoholic and a good singer. He sometimes disappears for days on drinking binges. "He sings old country songs. And blues, too. Like a pro."[a] He can also play the piano, the guitar and saxophone.
Mr. P – is Junior's geometry teacher at the Spokane Indian Reservation school. He mentored Junior's sister and he wants to help Junior leave 'the rez'. He has regrets from beating the Indian out of the children in his years of teaching. He is short and bald. Incredibly absent minded, he often forgets to come to school, but "he doesn't expect much of [his students]."[b]
Rowdy – "He is long and lean and strong like a snake."[c] Junior and Rowdy have been the best of friends since they were little. Rowdy's father abuses him, which explains his bullying behavior. He likes reading comics, like Archie. The comics help him escape the troubles of the real world.
Mary – Junior's Sister. Mary has long hair and is nicknamed "Mary runs away". She likes to write romance stories and is considered by Arnold to be "beautiful and strong and funny". She was very smart but did not have the skills to get a job.[d] After high school, she did not go to college or get a job, instead she moved to Montana with her new husband she met at the reservation casino. Mary and her new husband die of a fire in their trailer after a partygoer started to make some soup and then forgot and left. A curtain drifted onto the hot plate and the trailer was quickly engulfed. Arnold was told that Mary never woke up because she was too drunk.
Gordy – attends Reardan, wears glasses, and does everything in the name of science. He is very smart and he eventually becomes Junior's good friend, and—in many ways—his teacher.
Penelope – Arnold's girlfriend from Reardan High, she has blond hair and Junior thinks that she is very pretty. She enjoys helping others, is bulimic, and has a racist father named Earl. She is popular and plays on the Reardan volleyball team. She is obsessed with leaving the small town behind and travelling the whole world.
Eugene – is the best friend of Junior's father. "Eugene was a nice guy, and like an uncle to me, but he was drunk all the time."[e] He becomes an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the tribal ambulance service and for a brief time drives a 1946 Indian Chief Roadmaster. Eugene dies after being shot in the face by his good friend Bobby, who subsequently hangs himself in jail.
Junior's Grandma – nicknamed Grandmother Spirit, is Arnold's source of advice and support until she dies after being hit by a drunk driver, while walking on the side of the road on her way home after a powwow. Her dying words were "Forgive him", which meant that she wanted her family to forgive the drunk driver, Gerald, for hitting and killing her. The irony is that she never had a drink in her life. She was also extremely tolerant and loving of all people. Junior's grandma is his favorite person in the world. "My grandmother's last act on earth was a call for forgiveness, love, and tolerance."[f]
Coach – is the coach of the basketball team at Reardan High School. Unlike the teachers who are apprehensive of Junior's attendance at Reardan, the coach pays no attention to Junior's race. He is supportive of Junior both in and outside the court.[g]