The protagonist and narrator of the novel, Elaine is the daughter of an entomologist who grows up in Toronto, Canada. She has a strong curiosity about the natural world and is a talented student of… read analysis of Elaine Risley
Elaine’s best friend and worst enemy, Cordelia is a young girl who moves into the neighborhood while Elaine and her family are away for the summer. At first, the reader sees Cordelia through Elaine’s… read analysis of Cordelia
Elaine’s older brother. As a child, he collects comic books and marbles and seems to have no trouble fitting in with the other boys. Rowdy, brave, and a brilliant student of math and science… read analysis of Stephen Risley
Elaine’s father, whose name is never shared. He works as an entomologist researching spruce budworms, but he wanted to be a pilot during World War II—his research was deemed essential to the war effort… read analysis of Elaine’s Father
A childhood friend of Elaine’s, whose family lives nearby. Grace is one year older than Carol and Elaine, and before Cordelia joins their friend circle she leads the group. She is pale and wears… read analysis of Grace Smeath
The first friend that Elaine makes when her family moves to Toronto because she is the only other girl who rides the school bus. Judgmental and delicate, Carol does not like any activities deemed too… read analysis of Carol Campbell
Grace Smeath’s mother, a very religious and strict woman whom Elaine detests. Mrs. Smeath is extremely judgmental and narcissistic. She has big bones, and wears steel-rimmed glasses and print housedresses. She smiles, but she… read analysis of Mrs. Smeath
Elaine’s first husband, who also aspires to be a painter and artist. Unsuccessful in his artistic career, however, he takes on a job designing props for movie sets. He has frequent affairs and seems… read analysis of Jon
Elaine’s current husband, and the father of her daughter Anne. Ben works as a travel agent and can get easy trips for his family. He is portrayed as simple and old-fashioned—he meets Elaine… read analysis of Ben
The teacher of Elaine’s Life Drawing class, with whom she eventually has an affair. He is in his thirties at the time, and an émigré from Hungary, where he allegedly left behind a wife… read analysis of Josef Hrbik
Another student in Elaine’s Life Drawing class who also has an affair with Mr. Hrbik. She falls deeply in love with him, but he does not seem to return her affections. She ends… read analysis of Susie
Cordelia’s mother is the wife of a wealthy man. She arranges her own flowers and has a cleaning lady. She does seem to like Elaine, in contrast to Mrs. Smeath, but she partially… read analysis of Cordelia’s Mother
One of Elaine’s teachers, who has a Scottish accent and makes herself tea in the afternoons which she spikes with alcohol. Although she can be strict sometimes, she is the students’ favorite teacher. She… read analysis of Miss Stuart
A scientist who stays with Elaine’s family for a period during her childhood, as he works with her father. Elaine identifies with him, because he appears anxious and persecuted to her. However, he… read analysis of Mr. Banerji
One of the neighbors when Elaine’s family moves to Toronto and the mother of Brian Finestein, whom Elaine briefly babysits. Mrs. Finestein is a stylish lady who supports and inspires Elaine. She is… read analysis of Mrs. Finestein
Carol’s mother, who dresses in twin sets and sleeps in a different bed from her husband. She wears rubber gloves to wash the dishes, gets her hair done at a salon, and likes it when the kids stay out of sight.
Grace Smeath’s father, who does not seem to take etiquette or religion as seriously as his wife does. His only appearances in the novel involve making jokes at the dinner table that his wife does not react well to.
Elaine’s older daughter, whom she has with her first husband Jon. She appears to be more practical than her mother.
Elaine’s younger daughter, whom she has with her second husband Ben. She does not appear much in the novel but does seem to have a happier childhood than Elaine did.
) – Cordelia’s oldest sister, who enjoys ballet. She and Mirrie are best friends and do everything together, often excluding Cordelia.
Cordelia’s older sister, the middle child of the family. She plays viola. She is best friends with her sister Perdie and excludes Cordelia and her younger friends.
One of Elaine’s teachers, who is extremely strict and cruel. She loves the British Empire, and the girls like to picture her as wearing dark blue bloomers underneath her clothing. Images of her and those invisible bloomers haunt Elaine.
The organizer of the gallery Sub-Versions, which is showing Elaine’s retrospective. Charna is young and clearly very passionate about art. She also has very political ideas about art and interprets all of Elaine’s pieces as statements about gender, war, or society.
A young woman who interviews Elaine. She is a feminist, and clearly sees Elaine as somewhat old-fashioned or out-of-date.
Mrs. Smeath’s sister, who is similarly strict and religious. She seems to particularly dislike Elaine and see her as an irredeemable child from a family of heathens.
The child of Mrs. Finestein, whom Elaine gets paid to babysit for a short period of time before she becomes nervous that her friends will prompt her to do something horrible to him.
The first friend that Elaine makes when she ends her friendship with Cordelia, Grace, and Carol after nearly dying in the water under the bridge.
An older woman who also takes Life Drawing. She is best friends with Marjorie, and the two frequently gossip together.
An older woman who also takes Life Drawing. She is best friends with Babs, and the two frequently gossip together.
The woman who organizes the first exhibition that Elaine participates in.
One of the women who also participates in the first exhibition Elaine participates in.
Another of the women who participates in the first exhibition Elaine participates in.