Eva Marie Olinski
Eva Marie Olinski is a sixth-grade teacher at Epiphany Middle School. She is nervous on the first day of school because she hasn't taught in years and because she is now in a wheelchair. Ten years ago, Mrs. Olinski was in an automobile accident. Her husband was killed and she was paralyzed from the waist down.
Over the years, Mrs. Olinski has accepted her disability and has become self-confident enough in her wheelchair to try teaching again. However, she is aware of the reaction she gets from other people; they stare at her and treat her as though she is "different." This reaction causes Mrs. Olinski to feel self-conscious. The environment at Epiphany Middle School is quite hostile toward Mrs. Olinski. She is called a "cripple" and is treated disrespectfully. She feels sympathy for people who don't understand that "'cripples' are a diverse group of people" with thoughts and feelings.
At times, Mrs. Olinski is reminded of her physical limitations and of the losses she has endured. She lost her husband, the use of her legs, and the hopes and dreams she shared with her husband of having a family of their own. At Sillington House, Mrs. Olinski is "blinded by jealousy" when she sees Mrs. Draper (Mrs. Diamondstein now), her former principal, hug her grandson, Ethan. But instead of hanging on to that anger, Mrs. Olinski explores her feelings and, because she is in the company of people who accept her, feels her burden "lift from her shoulders."
When Mrs. Olinski appoints her academic team, she begins her journey to find meaning in her life once again and to discover kindness in others. With the support of The Souls, she feels less timid, she is able to maintain balance in the classroom, and she can relax when she is at Sillington House because The Souls and Mr. Singh don't pay any attention to her paralysis or her wheelchair.
At the novel's conclusion, Mrs. Olinski feels "a sense of loss" after her academic team is victorious. Mr. Singh points out to her that it is important to stop and enjoy the moment of victory.
Nadia is a sixth-grade student at Epiphany Middle School. She is chubby, has freckles on her nose, and bright red curly hair. Nadia is totally devoted to her dog, Ginger, who she believes is a "genius." Because of her parents' recent divorce, Nadia moves to New York state with her mother. Her mother, who is originally from New York, gets a job working for Noah's father, a dentist. Nadia's father stays in Florida, sells the house they lived in, and moves to a "swinging-singles apartment complex."
Nadia's life has changed completely. Because everything is new, nothing is familiar to her. She has not made new friends in New York yet, and when she tries to see old friends when she visits her father in Florida, it is a chore to make arrangements to get together. Consequently, Nadia chooses Ginger's company. Nadia feels that "inside [her] there [is] a lot of best friendship that no one but Ginger [is] using." She also feels left out and unimportant. Nobody told Nadia that Margaret Draper (her grandfather's new wife) had arranged her mother's job interview with Dr. Gershom in Epiphany. "No one seemed to think that it would matter to [her] where [she] lived" or that she would have to commute between her parents. When she visits her father, her father doesn't ask her about the sea turtles (Nadia had written a paper for school about the sea turtles and received an A on the paper), he asks Margaret. And later, when a nest of sea turtles hatches, Nadia's grandfather hugs and congratulates Margaret, Ethan, and her father — but not Nadia.
Nadia's journey parallels her life and the life cycle of the sea turtles. Both Nadia and the sea turtles have parents who are not physically present, they must endure a long maturation process, and they face the possibility along the way of losing their sense of direction and not having any help. By comparing the life cycle of the sea turtles to her life with divorced parents, Nadia is able to gain insight and understanding. Like the sea turtles, Nadia and her father have been picked up and put down in unfamiliar surroundings due to a "storm in their private lives. . . .They have been stranded and both need help resettling." After talking, Nadia and her father make a commitment to give each other "a lift between switches," to help each other through difficult times.
At Epiphany Middle School, Nadia is in Mrs. Olinski's homeroom. Nadia is extremely quiet and appears to be "cautious about being friendly, about showing [herself ]." Julian Singh invites Nadia to Sillington House for tea, and Nadia's life changes forever. She becomes a member of The Souls (she chooses the name of their group) and a member of Mrs. Olinski's Academic Bowl team. Nadia makes wonderful friends and discovers kindness in herself and in others.
Ethan is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Potter who are farmers. The Potter family is an established family in Epiphany. Potters have lived "in Clarion County since before Epiphany was a town." Ethan has an older brother named Lucas (nicknamed "Luke"). Luke is the perfect son, athlete, student, and overall citizen. Throughout his life, Ethan has lived in Luke's shadow. He has always felt inferior to Luke, as if he will never be able to measure up. Ethan thinks he is a disappointment to his teachers because he is not the great student Luke was. Ethan feels trapped. His family expects that he will take over the farm one day because "Luke [is] scheduled for greater things." But Ethan doesn't want the farm. He wants to become a set designer or costume designer for the theater. He doesn't tell anyone about this dream; instead, he keeps everything to himself and suffers in silence.
Ethan is extremely quiet and reserved. He is good at watching others and listening. He doesn't talk much. He creates barriers between himself and others to avoid having to participate in relationships. In this way, Ethan believes, other students will never find out that he is not as good as Luke. Ethan is aware that his "silence is a habit that hurts." His silence isolates him and causes him to feel lonely. When Julian Singh begins to take the school bus, Ethan avoids eye contact and conversation with Julian, even though he is curious about Julian. Julian, who is consistently kind and friendly toward Ethan, helps Ethan discover kindness within himself. Ethan's newfound kindness enables him to protect Julian from bullies.
Ethan goes to Sillington House and surprises himself. He finds the courage to tell jokes, ask questions, and be open with Nadia, Noah, and Julian — things he has never done before. Sillington house "made [him] pull sounds out of [his] silence." Ethan gains self-confidence and begins to feel good about himself. He becomes a member of The Souls and Mrs. Olinski's Academic Bowl team.
Julian is the person responsible for the formation of The Souls and the last person chosen by Mrs. Olinski to be on her academic team. Julian's "skin [is] the color of strong coffee with skim milk" and it has undertones of gray. "His lips are the color of a day-old bruise" and his hair is "blue-black, thick and straight." He has a British accent, carries a leather book bag, and wears shorts and knee socks. Julian has dignity. He is patient, polite, and cheerful even under adverse circumstances. Julian is quite an accomplished magician, who uses his talent wisely. He also has keen senses. He is always aware of Ham, a classmate who teases him, and where he is and what he is doing. Julian is an extremely thoughtful and kind person. Despite Ham's mean plan to bring harm to Ginger, Nadia's dog, Julian does not seek revenge and does not harm Arnold, Froelich's dog, even though he has the opportunity to do so. Julian simply takes the drugged dog treats and later drops them in Ham's lap.
Julian is part East Indian and part American. Throughout his childhood, he attended boarding schools, and during the summers he traveled with his father, a chef, on cruise ships. His mother, who was a singer, is dead. Julian and his father bought the Sillington House and are going to open a Bed and Breakfast inn for guests. The Sillington House is Julian's first stable home. Because he is on a journey to find a place for himself, he invites three classmates — Nadia, Ethan, and Noah — to the Sillington House for tea.
Noah is one of The Souls and is chosen by Mrs. Olinski to be on the sixth-grade Academic Bowl team. He is the son of Mrs. Gershom, a realtor, and Dr. Gershom, a dentist. Noah also has a brother named Joey. He knows a lot about myriad subjects; he often recites "facts" and "always [has] an answer for everything." When Julian proposes a project for The Souls, Noah quickly understands that it has to do with helping Mrs. Olinski "stand on [her] own two feet. . . ." Konigsburg implies that it was Noah who suggested The Souls become members of Mrs. Olinski's sixth-grade Academic Bowl team.
Noah's journey begins when he goes to Century Village in Florida to stay with his grandparents, Sadie and Nate Gershom. While he is there, he accidentally becomes the best man at the wedding of Nadia's grandfather and Ethan's grandmother. Noah thinks that he "did a wonderful job" helping with the preparations for the wedding. He is creative, industrious, and resourceful. Noah begins to realize that when he acts out of kindness, others do also. Noah gives up personal items that he has acquired while he has been in Florida, to be used as prizes at the Diamondstein wedding reception. The people who win the prizes end up spreading the kindness to other people. Noah is proud of himself and continues his journey at Sillington House with The Souls and their project to help Mrs. Olinski.