Ellen's mama's mama is an extremely bitter woman who treats Ellen with undue contempt. Ellen's mama's mama resents Ellen and blames her for Ellen's dad's mistakes (most notably Ellen's mother's death). Ellen has trouble understanding why her grandmother is unable to differentiate Ellen from Ellen's father.
Ellen's father is a lazy and dirty man who thinks of only himself. He usually isn't around, and when he is around he is usually drunk and prone to sexually harassing Ellen. As a result, Ellen is forced to take care of the bills and make dinner for herself and her father. Ellen talks about wanting to kill her father.
Starletta and her family are very poor. Ellen informs the reader that Starletta has been known to eat dirt and is slightly retarded. Their family, however, is kind and generous to Ellen. They feed her and let her stay with them without asking any questions. Thus, Starletta becomes Ellen's best friend. At first, Ellen has mixed feelings towards the family because they are "colored," but near the end of the novel, Ellen realizes that this was a silly opinion to hold and she apologizes to Starletta.
Mama (Ellen’s mother) dies very early in Ellen’s life from an overdose of medications. Ellen’s father refuses to take her mother to the hospital making the death partly his fault. When Ellen goes to her grandmother’s house, the reader learns that Mama was very highly regarded by her family. It is not clear, however, why Ellen’s mother married the man that she did instead of pursuing a career.
Dora and Nadine are a fairly wealthy family who allow Ellen to stay at their house for Christmas. When Dora (Nadine's daughter) asks Ellen what she wants for Christmas, Ellen says that she only wants paper, although she hopes that Dora will get her something better. Dora only gives Ellen paper and Ellen gets upset. Ellen gives Dora a hand drawn painting, for which Dora expresses dislike. Ellen becomes insulted by this and by the fact that Dora was so sparing when she shopped for a present.