Sophie Caco is diligent, thoughtful, and kind. She tries to please her family as a young girl but strives for independence as a young adult. She struggles with her family's rigid expectations for her career and love life. After her mother, Martine, tests her virginity in a traumatic ritual, Sophie breaks her own hymen so she can leave the house. The novel follows Sophie's estrangement from and reconciliation with Martine as well as her road to recovery from trauma.
Martine Caco is a determined and hardworking woman who wants the best for her child. But her own psychological wounds often affect her behavior. She was raped by a stranger as a young woman and was impregnated with Sophie. She also suffered many years of virginity testing from her own mother. Fear and worry often drive her actions, including her fatal attempt to terminate her second pregnancy. However, her tentative reconciliation with Sophie shows she also feels love.
Atie Caco, Sophie's aunt, or tante, is a loyal and compassionate woman with many regrets. She makes an effort not to live in the past, but she still longs to have a husband and be a mother. After Sophie leaves for America, Tante Atie bonds with Grandmè Ifé's neighbor, Louise, a young woman who lost her own mother. Tante Atie also moves in with Grandmè Ifé because she feels obligated, though Grandmè Ifé can tell Tante Atie's not truly happy. Learning to read gives Tante Atie a freedom and independence she hasn't experienced before.
Grandmè Ifé embodies wisdom and storytelling skills. She believes in Haitian voodoo traditions and distrusts certain aspects of modern life, like cameras and written archives. She practiced the tradition of virginity testing on her daughters, believing it was the only way to protect their sexual purity. During the novel she realizes the harm the testing caused Martine, Tante Atie, and Sophie. Grandmè Ifé is also instrumental to Sophie's healing process. She encourages Sophie to seek her own freedom after Martine's death.
Joseph is free-spirited and passionate, in contrast to Sophie's more reserved personality. African American spirituals and jazz music are an important part of his life and heritage. Joseph's need for freedom and flexibility in his career surprises Sophie, who's been trained to follow the career path her family chose. His desire for a physical connection causes friction in their marriage since Sophie is resistant to sex. He's kind and tries to be patient in encouraging Sophie to heal from her past trauma. Joseph proves to be a dedicated husband and father willing to work through problems.