Arnold Spirit, Jr., or Junior, is a fourteen-year-old boy who lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington; Alexis loosely based the character on himself. Junior is a budding cartoonist who also enjoys playing basketball. Like the other members of the Coeur d’Alene tribe who live on the reservation, Junior has grown up impoverished and surrounded by alcoholism. Yet Junior strives to pursue his education and transfers to Reardan, an affluent school with a mostly white student body. As a result, he suffers from extreme alienation both at his new school and on the reservation, leading him to question where he truly belongs.
Rowdy is Junior’s best friend since childhood; they are exactly the same age. However, unlike Junior, Rowdy is strong, tough, and angry. He frequently resorts to violence to deal with his emotional issues because he is the victim of an abusive and alcoholic father. Nevertheless, Rowdy is a phenomenal basketball player and the star of the Wellpinit team.
Gordy becomes Junior’s closest friend at Reardan. Like Junior, Gordy is committed to his education. However, Gordy (who is white) has had years of hope, support, and opportunities which have allowed him to excel educationally. He becomes Junior’s mentor and teaches him the best ways to study and to retain information.
Penelope is Junior’s friend and love interest at Reardan. She is white, blonde, and very pretty. She does not pay attention to Junior at first, though Junior eventually wins her affections. Once Penelope starts to spend time with Junior, the rest of their Reardan classmates open up to the idea of befriending him. Penelope's father is a terrible racist and she dreams of leaving her small town and traveling the world.
Arnold Spirit, Sr.
Arnold Spirit, Sr. is Junior’s father. He is an alcoholic and often wastes the family's meager income at the bar. He is a decent musician and a very good singer; Junior thinks he could have made a career of it if someone had believed in him. Despite Arnold Sr.'s alcoholism, Junior is close to his father. He appreciates Arnold Sr.'s efforts to keep him at Reardan and attests to the fact that his father has never missed one of his basketball games.
Agnes Spirit (formerly Adams) is Junior’s mother. She is an extremely smart and a voracious reader who is capable of remembering every piece of information she consumes. She was once an alcoholic, but she has tried her hardest to get her habit under control. She is fiercely loving and committed to her family.
Mary is Junior’s older sister whom he nicknames "Mary Runs Away". A promising student and aspiring writer, Mary retreated into her parents’ basement after graduating from high school. However, once she sees Junior pursuing his dreams by going to Reardan, she marries a professional gambler shortly after meeting him and moves to a reservation in Montana. Mary professes to be happy with her new life, which is sadly cut short after a fire consumes the trailer in which she and her husband are living.
Roger is an athletic and popular student at Reardan. When he and Junior first meet, he teases Junior relentlessly with racist remarks. Junior punches Roger out of frustration, which Roger does not expect. After that, Roger actually starts to respect Junior. They bond while playing together on the basketball team. After Junior and Penelope start to date, Roger becomes Junior's close friend and confidante. He often drives Junior home from school when he does not have a ride.
Grandmother Spirit is Junior’s maternal grandmother. She is wise, independent, and tolerant, and Junior calls her his "favorite person in the world." She is famous across many reservations because she attends powwows all over the country. Grandmother Spirit refrains from drinking alcohol because of what it has done to so many of her tribespeople. In a tragic but ironic twist, she ides after being hit by a drunk driver. Nevertheless, Grandmother Spirit's last request is for her family to forgive her killer.
Eugene is Junior’s father’s best friend, and he is like an uncle to Junior. He is an alcoholic, too, but he is not a violent drunk. He has a motorcycle on which he gives Junior rides to school. At one point, he was an EMT for the tribal ambulance service. Sadly, Eugene dies when one of his friends shoots him in a drunken brawl.
Mr. P. is Junior’s geometry teacher at Wellpinit High School. Junior accidentally hits him in the face when he throws his geometry book in frustration. Instead of chastizing Junior, though, Mr. P. apologizes. He feels bad that white teachers like him have been systematically trying to crush Indian culture. He assures Junior that he has potential and pushes him to leave the reservation and pursue his dreams.
Coach is Junior’s basketball coach at Reardan. Junior respects his coach and desperately wants to impress him. They eventually build a strong bond, especially after Coach witnesses the violence that Junior's tribespeople inflict on him during the Reardan - Wellpinit basketball game. Coach praises Junior's ability to stand tall in the face of adversity and mentors him during his time at Reardan.
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Mr. P. tells Junior that he is the smartest kid in his school, which means that he has to leave the reservation. Regardless of how difficult it might be, Mr. P. says, leaving the reservation will be Junior's only chance to realize his hopes and...
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