- Ander, the narrator. He's a high school senior in Savannah, Georgia. Life's path for him lies in many directions, and his choices, his beliefs in play and wonder, beauty and love begin to describe who he will be. The story is told in first person.
- Amba, an art student two years older than Ander, the girl Ander comes to love. She is the lead singer of the band Silvergirl Moon. As an artist she paints and draws weird elf-like paintings, earthy, sensual images that tease the mind. She has no tattoos, a clean body canvas as her friend Mark likes to say. She's honest and likes to live on the edge, wants to avoid life's inadequacies. She seeks to dance in the light, as Ander does, which is the core that draws him to her.
- Drew, Ander's best friend, distrusts Amba. Drew's kick is friendship loyalty and he leads the group of five young guys that have been friends much of their lives. Drew's ego is strong and he prefers to think he is almost always right.
- Tim has parents with money, living on Wilmington Island, near one of the creeks. He utters somewhat wise things just for the hell of it. He finances a lot of the boys excesses, and is sometimes the bridge between Ander and Drew.
- Bob lost his parents when he was young, recently lost his grandmother (the only relative he really cared about), and now lives in a run down house in one of the lousy parts of town.
- Brigitte, a stripper, a beautiful dancer.
- Brigitte's biker boyfriend and his two gnarled buddies
- Zach, Ander's seven year-old brother.
- Llan, Tim's uncle, who lives southwest of Matamoros, Mexico, and who supplies the boys with LSD.
- Benno, the Apache curandero—medicine man—the five friends meet in Mexico.
Four boys, seniors in high school and about to graduate, seek to overcome a sense of isolation by creating a family out of friends. They know they don't want to lead the life modeled by their middle-class parents and the society around them.
Ander, in particular, struggles to articulate a sweetness that he senses beneath the surface of ordinary life. He falls in love with Amba, a singer and painter.
His pursuit of beauty leads to a fight with a group of bikers after the friends share psychedelics with one of the biker’s girlfriends. One of Ander’s friends freaks, grabs an axe, and kills two of the bikers. The deaths are too much to deal with—they hide the bodies in a church, burn it, and flee to Mexico.
After arriving at Tim's uncle's place, they soon realize that refuge cannot be found by running away. The novel concludes in the foreign topography of desert hill country, with truth clouded by additional psychedelics and the necessity of dealing with who they’ve become.