- Nomi Nickel – The protagonist. She is sixteen years old, living in a Mennonite town. She is full of curiosity and her sister calls her "Swivelhead," but her eagerness to understand is interpreted as defiance or criticism or deliberate subversion.
- Raymond "Ray" Nickel – Nomi's quiet, reserved father. He survives the unforgiving conformism of East Village by toeing the line and trying to be a perfect citizen. He is bewildered by his less obedient wife and daughters, but very much devoted to them. Inevitably, he is caught between the "laws" of the town and his love for his family.
- Natasha "Tash" Dawn Nickel – Nomi's older sister. She rejects the East Village community and its values. She isn't bothered by anybody's disapproval. She and her boyfriend, Ian, leave town in his Econoline van, happily headed for California.
- Gertrude "Trudie" Dora Nickel – Nomi's mother and Pastor Rosenfeld's sister. She is overwhelmed by the pressure to be a model wife and citizen; her attempts to confront the 'system' only heighten her sense of entrapment. She leaves the town shortly after Natasha.
- Travis – Nomi's erstwhile boyfriend. He postures as a broad-minded Bohemian, but he proves himself to be another conventional townsman. Nomi has her first sexual experience with him.
- Hans "The Mouth" Rosenfeldt – Nomi's uncle, her mother's older brother. As the church pastor, he is a powerful, controlling presence in the community.
- Lydia "Lids" Voth – Nomi's good friend, from a more conservative Mennonite family. Nomi loves her because, unlike so many others in the community, she does not judge others. She is afflicted by a mysterious ailment that nobody can diagnose or treat effectively. She is eventually moved to a mental hospital.
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