The novel’s narrator and protagonist, Reuben is the 11-year-old son of Jeremiah Land. Reuben idolizes his older brother, Davy, and he is best friends with his younger sister, Swede. As a newborn… (read full character analysis)
Jeremiah is a deeply religious man who seems to regularly work miracles and speak directly with God. For example, he walks on thin air, cures the sick, and feeds a large crowd with a small… (read full character analysis)
Swede is a precocious and verbose nine-year old obsessed with the Wild West. As Reuben's younger sister and best friend, she habitually critiques Reuben's poorly thought out questions. She's an avid writer and throughout… (read full character analysis)
Davy is Reuben and Swede's older brother and Dad's oldest son. At 16, Davy seems to be fully adult. Though he comes from a devoutly religious family, he finds the idea of a… (read full character analysis)
Jape Waltzer is an outlaw who takes it upon himself to help Davy. He lives in a shack in the hills of North Dakota with his “daughter,” Sara, whom he bought from her… (read full character analysis)
Jape Waltzer acquired Sara from her father when Sara was a child, and he raises her to be his wife. She has wild red hair and is very pretty. While Sara doesn't appear outwardly afraid… (read full character analysis)
Lurvy is a sweaty, overweight traveling salesman who prefers to conduct his life drunk. He's a poor salesman, as he never tells his customers what he's selling unless asked, but he makes himself at home… (read full character analysis)
As Davy's defense lawyer, Mr. DeCuellar spends much of his time in the lead-up to the trial at the Lands’ home. He wears baggy suits and Swede comes quickly to adore him, as he… (read full character analysis)
Swede refers to Andreeson, the federal agent tasked with locating Davy, as a "putrid fed." However, Andreeson seems to have genuine sympathy for Davy and wants to do the right thing. For much of… (read full character analysis)
Reuben says that calling Israel "the town bully" doesn't begin to describe him. Israel is mean, once sent a teacher to the hospital, and scares even the police of Roofing. Davy kills him when he enters the Lands’ home with a baseball bat.
Though he's Israel Finch's accomplice in evil deeds, Reuben eventually realizes that Tommy Basca wasn't truly evil. Rather, Tommy isn't very smart and gets drawn into Israel's wrongdoing.
As the Land family's doctor, Dr. Nokes delivered Reuben and manages Reuben's asthma. He's a kind man, he believes in Jeremiah's miracles, and he promotes Reuben's steam treatments.
Mr. DeCuellar's wife showers Reuben and Swede with attention and is an exceptional cook, which earns her Reuben's admiration. Reuben is especially struck by the fact that Mrs. DeCuellar wears her long black hair down instead of pinned up.
August and Jeremiah grew up together in North Dakota and they remain friends into adulthood. August and his wife, Birdie, are successful farmers. He's a very generous and loyal friend to the entire Land family, particularly after Davy escapes from jail.
Reverend Johnny preaches at Reuben's Methodist church and begins the service with an hour of loud music. He's known for delivering sermons that cause people to speak in tongues and pass out. One of Reuben's classmates refers to him as a Bible thumper.
Ted Pullet is Roofing's primary law enforcement officer, who refuses to take action against Israel Finch and Tommy Basca.
Dolly is Davy's girlfriend and a clarinetist in the pep band.
Mom (Mrs. Land)
While Mom was married to Jeremiah long enough to give birth to Davy, Reuben, and Swede, she left not long after Swede's birth to marry a doctor in Chicago. Reuben suggests that she was disappointed by Jeremiah's decision to drop out of school and not become a doctor himself.
Bethany is Reuben's love interest for most of the book. She's a year older than Reuben, and thus seems infinitely more mature. She features prominently in Reuben's daydreams and fantasies as an adoring onlooker.
Elvis is the first name of the prosecuting attorney in Davy's trial; Reuben doesn't remember his last name. He's patronizing and draws an incriminating testimony out of Reuben.
The regular pastor at Roofing's Methodist church, Pastor Reach delivers boring sermons directly from the Bible.
Raymond is a young boy who watches Reuben take down Mr. Layton's corncrib.
Mr. Finch is Israel Finch's grandfather. He's an alcoholic and very frail.
Mr. Layton owns Roofing's dime store and is a kind if eccentric elderly man. He pays Reuben to take down his old corncrib.
A rancher in North Dakota who would rather be out riding than at home. He owns the land that Jape Waltzer's shack sits on in North Dakota.
A federal investigator who leads the posse to Jape Waltzer's cabin.
Sheriff Charlie Pym
The sheriff of Montrose and the man who leads the initial hunt for Davy.
A deputy at the Montrose County Jail who delights in Davy's escape.
The doctor in North Dakota who deems steam treatments ineffective and gives Reuben adrenaline instead.