The novel’s protagonist and the matriarch of the Rivera family, Alma is a loving wife and mother who is determined to make the best life possible for her daughter, Maribel. Maribel suffers from brain… read analysis of Alma Rivera
Alma’s husband and Maribel’s father, Arturo is the only member of the Rivera family licensed to work, so he is the sole provider for his wife and daughter as they make their new lives in… read analysis of Arturo Rivera
The daughter of Alma and Arturo, the teenage Maribel has suffered a traumatic brain injury which has impaired her ability to emote, communicate, and remember. Maribel was once, according to her parents, impetuous and… read analysis of Maribel Rivera
Mayor was a young child when his family left Panamá, and he has lived most of his life in Newark, Delaware. Mayor is a scrawny, slightly nerdy teen boy. His father Rafael dreams that Mayor… read analysis of Mayor Toro
Rafael “Rafa” Toro
An immigrant from Panamá and a resident of Redwood Apartments, the volatile Rafa is the patriarch of the Toro family—a role that he sees as both vitally important and constantly threatened. Rafael’s outbursts often frighten… read analysis of Rafael “Rafa” Toro
A local bully who views Mayor Toro as his “special project.” Garrett skateboards around town between Redwood Apartments and his own community, Capitol Oaks, looking for trouble and harassing Mayor and eventually Maribel. When… read analysis of Garrett Miller
The busybody of Redwood, Quisqueya is a flamboyant and beloved figure in the community who lives for drama. She immigrated to the United States from Venezuela at the age of twelve when her mother fell… read analysis of Quisqueya Solis
A Nicaraguan immigrant who once studied to join the priesthood, but eventually came to the U.S. to make money. He worked as a smuggler to get out of Arizona, where he was forced to live… read analysis of Benny Quinto
Half-Guatemalan and half-Mexican, Gustavo left Guatemala for México in order to escape violent military rule. Shunned in México due to his Guatemalan heritage, he eventually moved to the United States in 2000 after the death… read analysis of Gustavo Milhojas
Adolfo “Fito” Angelino
Fito is the landlord of Redwood Apartments, the bustling complex where the novel’s characters make their home. Fito is an immigrant from Paraguay who once dreamed of being a boxer. Slight and “sinewy,” Fito took… read analysis of Adolfo “Fito” Angelino
One of the Riveras’ new neighbors, Nelia came to the mainland from Puerto Rico in 1964 to make it big as a dancer in New York City. Frustrated by her inability to score any roles… read analysis of Nelia Zafón
A transplant from Puerto Rico and a Navy man, José Mercado rejected his early artistic impulses in order to enlist in the military. He is still a lover of poetry and art, and though his… read analysis of José Mercado
An immigrant from México who lives in the Redwood Apartments. He is frustrated by the unfairness of the immigration progress and the stigma against immigrants and Latinos. He is an advocate for legislation reform for… read analysis of Micho Alvarez
The eldest of the Toro children, Enrique is off at college in Maryland on a soccer scholarship. Though Enrique insists that Mayor is the golden child, Enrique is the apple of his parents’ eyes, and Mayor feels that he is living in Enrique’s shadow.
José’s wife and one of the Riveras’ new neighbors, Ynez is a supportive wife and friend who comes from Puerto Rico.
The translator for the Newark school district who helps Alma Rivera to understand and communicate with Maribel’s teachers. Phyllis also translates Maribel’s daily school reports so that Alma can keep up with her daughter’s progress.
The English teacher at Community House, Mrs. Shields is enthusiastic and encouraging. She gives Alma Rivera, and the rest of the class, Spanish-to-English translation dictionaries and the dictionary becomes an important tool for Alma.
One of Mayor’s friends from school.