A mother of eight, LaJoe devotes most of her life to protecting her children from the dangers of the neighborhood. She has her first child at fourteen and, after her husband, Paul, becomes addicted… read analysis of LaJoe Rivers
At twelve years old, Lafeyette is LaJoe’s closest confidante. He is a devoted older brother to Pharoah and the triplets, and is a younger brother to LaShawn, Weasel, and Terence… read analysis of Lafeyette Rivers
LaJoe and Paul’s nine-year-old son, Pharoah (whose name is a misspelling of the Egyptian “Pharaoh”), is the Rivers family’s success story, as his hard work at school pays off, allowing him for example to… read analysis of Pharoah Rivers
LaJoe’s third son, Terence, is also her greatest disappointment. Despite sharing an extraordinarily close relationship with his mother, Terence leaves the house at the age of ten and begins selling drugs for a local… read analysis of Terence Rivers
The narrator and author of There are No Children Here. Kotlowitz’s friendship with the Rivers family began while he was working on the written content for a photographer’s essay on childhood and poverty, which… read analysis of Alex Kotlowitz
A tough, violent student at Pharoah’s school, Rickey takes a liking to Pharoah and defends him against other students. Pharoah and Lafeyette both befriend Rickey, but they also try to distance themselves from Rickey’s… read analysis of Rickey
Calvin “Bird Leg” Robinson
Lafeyette’s friend Bird Leg is a dog lover who, over time, becomes involved with the Conservative Vice Lords gang. Although he never sells drugs, he becomes passionate about gang rivalry and, at the age… read analysis of Calvin “Bird Leg” Robinson
Perhaps the only person Lafeyette considers a true friend and not a mere “associate,” Craig Davis brings joy and positivity to the Horner community. Characterized by an optimistic trust in his own potential to one… read analysis of Craig Davis
LaJoe’s only and closest friend, Rochelle, plays an important role in her life. Rochelle is devoted to LaJoe’s family and is “like a second mother” to Lafeyette and Pharoah. She often tries to support… read analysis of Rochelle
James is initially a close friend of Lafeyette’s, and the two of them live in the same building and have grown up together. James is more athletic and easygoing than Lafeyette. Even though the… read analysis of James Howard
Leonard “Porkchop” Anderson
Pharoah’s cousin and closest friend, Porkchop, is a couple of years younger than him. Unlike Pharoah, who is often more reserved, Porkchop initially seems shy but is animated by a strong, nervous energy. The… read analysis of Leonard “Porkchop” Anderson
Dawn, LaJoe’s niece, is a rare success story in the Rivers family. Despite already having four children with her boyfriend, Demetrius, she succeeds in graduating from high school, impressing Lafeyette and Pharoah with… read analysis of Dawn
Jimmie Lee is the head of the Conservative Vice Lords gang and reigns through fear over the Henry Horner Homes, as he controls the trafficking of drugs, the punishment of “snitchers,” and the defense of… read analysis of Jimmie Lee
Lelia Mae Anderson
Originally from West Virginia, LaJoe’s mother, Lelia, leaves the South to find a job in Chicago. After moving into the Henry Horner Homes, she is active in the local Democratic Party, but moves out… read analysis of Lelia Mae Anderson
Terence’s lawyer proves devoted to her client. Impressed by Terence’s professions of innocence and his strong relationship with his family, she feels sorry for Terence’s plight and fights to reduce his sentence. She does… read analysis of Audrey Natcone
The public defender in charge of Lafeyette’s trial seems unfriendly and harsh but is actually moved by a desire to do the best she can in difficult circumstances, as she lacks the time and… read analysis of Anne Rhodes
A local drug dealer who takes nine-year-old Terence under his wing, giving him a well-furnished room to live in, Charles teaches Terence to sell drugs and decides that he has become his own son. Eventually… read analysis of Charles
At Horner, Alonzo is shot in the head by a stray bullet. His experience with violence contrasts sharply with another shooting that takes place at the same time in the country and, unlike Alonzo’s plight… read analysis of Alonzo Campbell
LaJoe’s oldest child, LaShawn, is addicted to drugs and occasionally uses prostitution to finance her drug habit. She moves back in with LaJoe and often leaves the house without warning, thus forcing LaJoe or Lafeyette to look over LaShawn’s own children, Tyisha, Baldheaded, and DeShaun.
Paul “Weasel” Rivers
Weasel is LaJoe’s second-oldest child. Although Weasel is mentioned very little in the story, he occasionally demonstrates his loyalty to his family by defending LaJoe from Keith, a man in the neighborhood who was assaulting her, and giving Lafeyette and Pharoah puppies as a present.
The Triplets (Tiffany, Tammie, Timothy)
The triplets are LaJoe’s youngest children, who are four years old at the beginning of the narrative.
Unlike many young men in the neighborhood, Dawn’s boyfriend, Demetrius, is devoted to his family and takes care of his children, sacrificing himself so that Dawn can finish high school while he earns his GED.
Terence “Snuggles” Rivers
Terence’s first son, whom Terence has at the age of fourteen, experiences the harrowing event of seeing his father taken away from him when Terence is arrested.
LaShawn’s seven-year-old daughter. Her siblings are Darrel and DeShaun.
LaShawn’s one-year-old son. His siblings are Tyisha and DeShaun.
LaShawn’s son, who is born in 1989 with opiates and cocaine in his system. His siblings are Tyisha and Darrel.
LaJoe’s father, who is also originally from the American South, dies of cancer a few years after leaving Horner with his wife, Lelia.
LaShawn’s boyfriend sells fake jewelry to tourists at the airport. He lives in LaJoe’s apartment.
Brian’s brother also lives in LaJoe’s apartment.
Pharoah’s teacher is a passionate educator who devotes an extraordinary amount of energy to her students. Admiring Pharoah’s determination to speak clearly despite his stutter, she gives him responsibilities throughout the school year, noting the pride and joy he takes in performing well at school.
The star pupil in Ms. Barone’s class, Clarise develops a deep partnership with Pharoah as both students prepare for the school’s spelling bee. An unusually mature student, Clarise proves deeply committed to helping Pharoah succeed, encouraging him in a motherly fashion and feeling proud of Pharoah’s achievements.
Like many other legal workers, the state’s attorney at Lafeyette’s trial is also horrified by the lack of attention that is paid to children in court cases, even though these children desperately need it.
Charlie Toussas, a plainclothes policeman, knows Jimmie Lee well and respects Lee’s gentlemanly attitude. When he sees Lee lead a group of Conservative Vice Lords to take revenge on the Disciples for Bird Leg’s death, he succeeds in convincing the gang leader to avoid violent retaliation.
The assistant manager at the store where Rickey and Lafeyette are discovered shoplifting behaves kindly toward them, realizing that Lafeyette seems sincerely apologetic. Embracing compassion instead of punishment, he decides not to press charges against the boys.
This eight-year-old girl is stabbed forty-eight times by two young boys of Horner, who also murder her family. Overcoming a culture of silence and fear, she testifies at the young men’s trial, impressing everyone with her extraordinary courage and calmness.
Craig Davis’s mother proves persistent in her desire to seek justice for her son’s death, as she plans to file a lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Lafeyette and Pharoah’s nine-year-old cousin, who dates Rickey for a while.
The mother of Craig Davis’s girlfriend.
The Soto Brothers
Two brothers from Horner who were killed by the police on two separate days in 1969. Their deaths, which local residents considered unfair and unjustified, sparked riots against the police.
Damien “Scooter” Russell
One of Lafeyette’s friends, who is killed in a car accident, as the driver was trying to escape from the police.
Mayor of Chicago in the early 1980s, Jane Byrne moves into Horner for a few weeks to enforce order, thus highlighting the dramatically violent situation of inner-city, public housing complexes in Chicago.
Jeff Fort, the head of El Rukns, an African-American street gang, is initially seen as a potential force for good in poor inner-city neighborhoods, but is later convicted of conspiracy in 1987.
The principal at Henry Suder Elementary School, the school that Lafeyette and Pharoah attend, succeeds in establishing discipline at school but is sometimes seen as overly harsh in her punishments. However, she has also created a renowned program to send a dozen students to Africa over the summer.
Lafeyette’s teacher demonstrates her emotional commitment to her students by allowing Lafeyette to stay after class and talk to her about his troubles at home and in the neighborhood. She is perceptive and notices that Lafeyette spends a lot of his time worrying about his family.
The man whose truck Lafeyette and four other boys are accused of breaking into.
Jimmie Lee’s Lawyer
The lawyer who represents gang leader Jimmie Lee when he is tried for drug trafficking. Jimmie Lee’s lawyer points out that simply ridding the neighborhood of Lee won’t erase the large-scale problems of drug trafficking and gang violence.
A friend of Bird Leg. At Bird Leg's funeral, Carla gives a speech in which she makes clear that Bird Leg is not simply a member of a gang, but rather a young man whose future was ripped away from him.
A man in the neighborhood who threatens and even assaults LaJoe to try to force her into accepting his sexual advances. Weasel takes it into his own hands to defend his mother, and attacks Keith until Keith begs for mercy.
A new building manager at Horner who discovers immense negligence and waste by those who are supposed to support and maintain the development.
A new chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority. He works hard to improve the situation at Horner, with some success. But he faces immense funding and institutional obstacles.