- Taylor also narrates much of the story. She is a strong, gutsy woman, and her voice is both sassy
and kind. Like her mother, she is proud of her Cherokee blood.
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.
The child given to Taylor in the middle of the Cherokee nation. She gets her name from her
clinginess, which reminds Taylor of the mud turtles in Kentucky. She is so quiet and unengaged that many believe
her to be dumb or retarded. Although Taylor has spent her life avoiding pregnancy, she keeps Turtle with her.
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. Turtle begins to thrive and prosper, at least until she is attacked at the park,
leading to psychological scars and jeopardizing her status as Taylor's foster child.
Lou Ann Ruiz
- A Kentuckian woman who settled in Tucson with her baby, Dwayne Ray. Her husband, Angel, has
just walked out on her when the story begins, and Taylor and Turtle move in with her. She worries about the terrible
accidents and horror stories she hears about, fearing for the safety of herself and her baby. More sensitive and more
provincial than Taylor, she is nonetheless a survivor. Lou Ann Ruiz Taylor’s roommate and friend. 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.
- The owner of Jesus Is Lord Used Tires and a mother figure for Taylor. She is wise and kind. She allows
illegal immigrants to stay in her home, operating a kind of sanctuary. Her garden of beautiful vegetables and car
parts is an inspiration for Turtle, whose first word is
and who loves all kinds of vegetables.
She hires Taylor
to work in her tire shop and becomes her friend.
- A Guatemalan refugee, he worked as an English teacher in Guatemala before he and his wife fled to the
United States. He speaks beautiful English, and his kind ways inspire romantic feelings in Taylor. He lives in
Mattie's building with his wife, Esperanza. He enlightens Taylor about the corruption of Central American
He now washes dishes at a Chinese restaurant. He risks his life to help Taylor keep Turtle by