Taylor Greer The feisty protagonist of the novel. Taylor's real name is Marietta (Missy) Greer. A strong-willed and unpredictable young woman, she leaves her Kentucky home to begin a new life for herself. After her car breaks down in Oklahoma, she finds herself with a little girl to care for. She and the little girl, Turtle, end up in Tucson, Arizona. Taylor blossoms and matures as she becomes a caring mother and friend, learns about human rights and social injustice, and risks her life for people in need.
Alice Jean Stamper Greer Taylor's mother, who supports herself and Taylor by working as a housekeeper for wealthy people. She maintains a positive attitude despite hard work and the responsibility of raising a child alone. Her love enables Taylor to become self-confident and independent.
Foster Greer Taylor's father, who left home as soon as he found out that his wife was pregnant.
Eddie Rickett Taylor's boss at her first "real" job in the lab at Pittman County Hospital.
Jolene Shanks A girl Taylor knew from high school who got pregnant, dropped out of school, and married Newt Hardbine. Taylor talks to Jolene in the Pittman County Hospital while Jolene waits to have an x-ray taken after she is shot by her father-in-law.
Turtle The three-year-old Cherokee child who is left on Taylor's car seat. After her mother's death, Turtle, whose real name is April, lived with her aunt and, during that time, apparently was physically and sexually abused by a male friend of her aunt. When she was left with Taylor, Turtle was catatonic: She blankly stared off into space, living in her own world and not speaking. Experiencing love from Taylor and others in the community, Turtle feels secure and safe enough to begin speaking. Her first words are the names of vegetables. Eventually, Turtle is adopted by Taylor.
Mrs. Hoge The little old woman who works at the reception desk at the Broken Arrow Motor Lodge, where Taylor and Turtle stay temporarily on their way to Tucson. Mrs. Hoge helps her daughter-in-law, Irene, run the motel. She is kind to Taylor and Turtle, letting them stay in one of the rooms at the motor lodge during the Christmas holidays in return for Taylor's services as a chambermaid. She bickers with Irene and is disappointed because Irene hasn't given her a grandchild. Mrs. Hoge shakes a lot because she has Parkinson's disease.
Irene Mrs. Hoge's daughter-in-law.
Mattie A patient and kind widow who owns Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. An active participant in the Sanctuary movement, she uses her tire shop as a shelter for political refugees from Central America. She hires Taylor to work in her tire shop and becomes her friend.
Sandi Sandi works at Burger Derby, where Taylor works briefly. She has a son named Seattle (after a racehorse named Seattle Slew). She loves horses and befriends Taylor when she learns that Taylor is from Kentucky. (Sandi thinks that everyone who lives in Kentucky has horses.)
Jessie A homeless woman who takes leftover fruit and melon rinds from area coffee shops under the pretense that she needs them to paint still-lifes.
Timothy, Fei, and La-Isha The people who put an ad in the newspaper for a roommate, which Taylor answers. They are vegetarians and participate in the New Age movement, drawing energy from cosmic sources.
Lou Ann Ruiz Taylor's roommate and friend. She is separated from her husband and is raising their son alone. She is from Kentucky, and when Taylor answers her ad for a roommate, they become fast friends, and eventually family. Lou Ann is frightened of everything, is insecure, and has low self-esteem. With Taylor's encouragement and example, Lou Ann becomes more self-confident and self-directed.
Angel Ruiz Lou Ann's estranged husband. As a result of an accident with his pickup truck, he lost a leg at the knee and has an artificial limb. After the accident, he becomes quite angry and blames others for things that they have no control over.
Dwayne Ray Ruiz Lou Ann and Angel's son.
Ivy Logan Lou Ann's mother, who lives in Kentucky with her mother-in-law, Granny Logan. She is prejudiced and didn't want Lou Ann to marry a Mexican.
Granny Logan Lou Ann's grandmother, who lives in Kentucky with her daughter-in-law, Lou Ann's mother. She is demanding and prejudiced and rarely speaks directly to her daughter-in-law.
Bobby Bingo An old man who sells fresh vegetables out of his run-down truck, which he parks down the street from where Lou Ann lives.
Lee Sing The owner of the market across the street from where Lou Ann lives. She lives in the back of the store with her mother, who is said to be over a hundred years old.
Edna Poppy A blind, elderly woman who lives with, and depends on, a woman named Virgie Mae. The two women are Taylor and Lou Ann's neighbors. Edna always dresses in red. She is a kind woman who occasionally baby-sits Turtle and Dwayne Ray.
Virgie Mae Valentine Parsons Taylor and Lou Ann's neighbor. She is an extremely formal, rude, and prejudiced elderly woman who lives with and cares for Edna.
Father William A priest involved with the Sanctuary movement.
Terry A doctor who visits Jesus Is Lord Used Tires to care for the political refugees living in sanctuary. He eventually moves to a Navajo reservation to work.
Estevan A political refugee from Guatemala living in sanctuary at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. While in Guatemala, Estevan was an English teacher. He now washes dishes at a Chinese restaurant. Married to Esperanza, he risks his life to help Taylor keep Turtle by posing as Turtle's father.
Esperanza Estevan's wife, who lives with him in sanctuary at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. She is extremely depressed and attempts suicide. On the journey to the safe house in Oklahoma, Esperanza spends time caring for Turtle. She is able to symbolically give up her daughter, Ismene (who was kidnapped in Guatemala), when she poses as Turtle's mother and gives her to Taylor.
Harland Elleston A man who marries Taylor's mother. He is part-owner of El-Jay's paint and body in Pittman County, Kentucky. According to Taylor, he has "warts on his elbows and those eyebrows that meet in the middle."
Cynthia A social worker who becomes involved in Taylor and Turtle's lives when someone attempts to molest Turtle while she's under Taylor's care. Child Protective Services discovers that Taylor doesn't have legal claim to Turtle, and Cynthia informs Taylor. She later gives Taylor information about what she can do to acquire legal custody of Turtle.
Mr. Jonas Wilford Armistead A tall, elderly man who arranges for Taylor's legal adoption of Turtle.
Mrs. Cleary Mr. Armistead's secretary.