Lydia is the middle daughter of James and Marilyn. At the beginning of the book, she has just died at the age of 16; after a few days, her body is discovered at the… read analysis of Lydia Lee
Marilyn is the daughter of Doris Walker and was born and raised in Virginia. Growing up, Marilyn is disdainful of her mother’s perfect housewife performance and her vocation as a home economics teacher. She dreams… read analysis of Marilyn Lee
James is the son of Chinese immigrants. Before their deaths, both of his parents worked in the cafeteria of Lloyd Academy, a prestigious prep school which James attended for free after passing the entrance exam… read analysis of James Lee
Nath (whose full name is Nathan) is the eldest son of James and Marilyn. Academically gifted, he enjoys studying and dreams of a career that involves outer space. Shortly before Lydia’s death, he is… read analysis of Nath Lee
Doris Walker is Marilyn’s mother. Doris’ unnamed husband leaves her when Marilyn is three, yet she continues to perform the role of a perfect housewife, wearing makeup at all times and cooking elaborate meals and… read analysis of Doris Walker
Jack Wolff is a boy who lives on the same street as the Lee family. He has a reputation for taking the virginity of teenage girls, and Nath worries about the fact that he and… read analysis of Jack Wolff
Officer Fiske is the police officer charged with investigating Lydia’s death. He is fair and patient with the Lee family, though he ultimately ignores the beliefs of both Marilyn and Nath and rules Lydia’s death… read analysis of Officer Fiske
Dr. Janet Wolff is Jack’s mother. A single parent and a doctor, she is the subject of gossip within the neighborhood. Behind Janet’s back, Mrs. Allen accuses her of neglecting Jack in favor of her career.
Louisa Chen is a graduate student and one of James’ teaching assistants. Like James, she is also Chinese-American. She and James have an affair that begins after Lydia’s death.
Vivian Allen lives on the same street as the Lees and Wolffs. When Marilyn is gone, James leaves the children under her supervision. While Mrs. Allen is judgmental of both Marilyn and Janet’s parenting, when she looks after the Lee children she falls asleep in front of the television.
Lydia claims that Karen Adler is her best friend and talks about her regularly at home. After Lydia’s disappearance, the Lee family discovers that Lydia and Karen barely knew each other.
Tom Lawson is a professor of chemistry at Middlewood College. Marilyn asks him to consider hiring her as a research assistant, but when she doesn’t call, he gives the role to an undergraduate.
Stan, whom James describes as “a florid ham hock of a man,” has an unspecified role in the history department at Middlewood College. He interrupts a conversation between James and Louisa.