Amber becomes Lynn’s friend when both girls are about fourteen. Amber is one of the popular girls at school. Her ambition is to become a model. She and Lynn have an interest in boys and go on a camping trip because they know their favorite boys will be close by. Amber later drops Lynn as a friend. Katie accuses Amber of being a phony, and the two girls get into a fight.
Daniel is Katie’s young cousin, the twin of David, son of Uncle Katsuhisa and Auntie Fumiko. He is about a year older than Katie.
David is Katie’s young cousin, the twin of David, son of Uncle Katsuhisa and Auntie Fumiko. He is a lively young boy and Uncle Katsuhisa compares him to Katie.
Uncle Katsuhisa is Katie’s uncle, the older brother of Katie’s father. After his brother loses his grocery store, Uncle Katsuhisa invites the Takeshima family down to Georgia, where he helps them find a job. Uncle Katsuhisa inherited some money after saving someone’s life in World War II. This enabled him to buy a house, the only Japanese in the small town who owns his own property. Uncle Katsuhisa is an ambitious man who does not want to spend his entire life working in a hatchery. He wants to become a land surveyor, although he has little chance of achieving that ambition because of prejudice against Japanese people. Uncle Katsuhisa is a good talker who likes to tell stories. He also prides himself on being a good chess player, but Lynn beats him easily.
Auntie Fumiko is Katie’s aunt, the wife of Uncle Katsuhisa. She is his second wife. Unlike Katie’s mother, she does not have to take a job, being supported by her husband. She and her husband have a rather stormy relationship. They love each other but sometimes quarrel. Auntie Fumiko is an uncomplaining kind of woman, and she is kind to Katie.
Hank Garvin is a middle-aged man who rescues Sammy from the animal trap and drives him to the hospital in his truck. Katie likes him and thinks he is very handsome. Hank stays at the hospital long enough to make sure that Sam is fine, and later he attends Lynn’s funeral, wearing the wristwatch that Lynn and Katie gave him as a reward for his actions.
Gregg is a popular boy at school, and Lynn is very interested in him. She is upset when he moves away.
Jedda-Boy is a friend of Uncle Katsuhisa. He is a land surveyor, which is what Uncle wants to become. Jedda-Boy goes with Uncle and his family on a camping trip.
Mrs. Kanagawa is one of the women who live in the apartment building. She takes care of the preschoolers.
Mrs. Kilgore is the mother of Silly. She works at the poultry plant and is strongly in favor of forming a union. She is a plain-spoken woman, and Katie’s mother thinks she makes trouble, but that is only because Mrs. Kilgore does some union organizing.
Silly Kilgore is a young girl perhaps a little older than Katie. The name is short for Sylvia. Silly works at the plant doing the laundry so she can have money for school clothes. Her father is dead and she is close to her uncle. The two girls become friends.
Mr. Lyndon is the wealthy owner of the poultry processing plant where Katie’s mother works, as well as several other plants, including the hatchery where Katie’s father works. He lives in a large mansion and is one of the most powerful people in the county. He is also one of the richest men in Georgia. However, he is roundly disliked by the people in the town. They point out that he inherited his wealth rather than making it himself. He also resists efforts by the workers to organize a union. Mr. Lyndon fires Katie’s father after he goes to Mr. Lyndon’s house and confesses that he was the one who wrecked Mr. Lyndon’s car.
Katie Takeshima is the narrator of the story. She tells the story of her life from about the age of four until she is twelve. She adores her sister Lynn, who is four years older than she and acts in many ways as her teacher, showing Katie, in Katie’s own words, how “amazing” life is.
Katie is a lively, mischievous child but for some reason she does not do well in school. She usually gets a C, and there is talk of holding her back a year if she does not improve. Katie learns a huge amount in the seven years or so covered by the story by observing what goes on around her and listening to the adults. She learns about racial discrimination, for example, what life is like in the poultry processing plant, and the need for a labor union. In particular she matures through having to deal with the death of her sister. Once she has recovered from her immediate grief, she works harder at school and her grades improve, and she takes on more responsibility in the home.
Kiyoko Takeshima is Katie’s mother. She is a small, delicate woman with a nervous disposition. She is easily upset and likes things to be kept peaceful and quiet. She is very protective of her children. She is also practical, and her husband allows her to handle the family’s financial affairs. They have a good marriage, and her husband dotes on her. Kiyoko works long hours at the poultry processing plant, and sometimes when she comes home her wrists are stiff and she cannot move her fingers. She and her husband work so hard because they are saving to buy a house.
Lynn Takeshima is Katie’s older sister. She is a very bright and creative girl who likes to read the encyclopedia. A straight-A student at school, she declares to Katie that she is a genius—and Katie believes her partly because Lynn easily beats their uncle at chess. Katie thinks that everything Lynn says must be right. Lynn has many ambitions. She wants to go to college and live in a tall building in Chicago. She also wants to live by the sea in California and buy her parents seven houses. She loves the sea even though she has never seen it. She plans to become a rocket scientist or a famous writer. As an adolescent she naturally becomes interested in boys and acquires her first boyfriend, Gregg. Tragically, however, Lynn gets sick with lymphoma and dies when she is fifteen years old.
Masao Takeshima is Katie’s father. He was born in the United States but educated in Japan. He is a thoughtful man who thinks before he acts. Once he has decided something, he never changes his mind. After the grocery store he owns in Iowa fails, he takes his family down to Georgia, where his brother helps him to find a job working in a hatchery. For most of the time Katie is young, her father works two jobs and barely has enough time to sleep. He works seven days a week, every week. He does not talk much, unlike his brother, unless it is to his wife. He prefers reading the newspaper to conversation. He is even-tempered and rarely gets angry; Katie also thinks he is the most generous man in the world. He is completely devoted to his family.
Sammy Takeshima is Katie’s younger brother. He is born when she is about five. Lynn and Katie look after him well, although he does meet with one accident, when he gets his ankle caught in an animal trap on Mr. Lyndon’s property.
The Thug’s real name is Dick. He is employed by Mr. Lyndon to disrupt the attempts of the workers to form a union.
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