Landon Carter is the narrator of the novel. As a fifty-seven-year-old man, he looks back on a few months that changed his life when he was seventeen. At the beginning of the novel, Landon is an immature boy who has little idea of what he wants to do with his life. He thinks of himself as a rebel. He is not especially good at anything, and his main source of pleasure seems to be hanging out at the graveyard with his friends and pulling harmless pranks, such as soaping up car windows in the neighborhood at night. He becomes president of the student body only because his father insists that he run, so he can boost his resume and get into the University of North Carolina. Landon signs up for the drama class only because he thinks it will be easy, but it turns out that this class sets in motion a chain of events that will force him to grow up very quickly. It throws him together with Jamie Sullivan, and although at first he resists getting involved with her, eventually he falls in love with her. Through Jamie he learns how to behave selflessly, with consideration for others. He also learns about religion and faith. By the end of the novel he has learned how to give everything he has to the one he loves—a notion that would have been meaningless to the boy he was before he got to know Jamie.
Worth Carter is Landon’s father. He is a long-serving U.S. Congressman and a wealthy man, since he inherited his father’s fortune. He is a skillful politician, diplomatic and charming. During the 1950s he serves on a House committee that investigates communist influence in the U.S. Worth Carter does not get along with Hegbert Sullivan, and he is not much of a father to Landon. He spends so much time in Washington D.C. that Landon regards him as a stranger. However, when Worth donates money to enable Jamie to have medical care at home, Landon is so grateful that he is reconciled to his father.
Mrs. Carter is Landon’s mother. She is the parent most responsible for raising Landon, and he describes her as “a nice lady, sweet and gentle.” She provides a willing ear when Landon chooses to talk to her about his feelings, and she offers him good advice. She can also be forceful when necessary, as when she persuades her husband to return from Washington and arrange to pay for Jamie’s medical expenses.
Angela Clark is Landon’s former girlfriend. She rejects him after a few months, choosing to go out with Lew instead. Angela gets drunk at the homecoming dance and has to be helped home by Landon and Jamie.
Carey Dennison is the student body treasurer. Like Landon, he does not have a date for the homecoming dance, and Landon is scared that he may ask Jamie before he, Landon, has a chance to do so.
Miss Garber is the drama teacher at the high school. She is in her forties and is over six feet tall, with red hair. She is enthusiastic about what she does, and keeps using the word marvelous.
Margaret Hays is Eric Hunter’s girlfriend. She is the head cheerleader at the school. Landon thinks she has nice legs but he also thinks she is not very bright.
Eric Hunter is Landon’s best friend. They have known each other since kindergarten. Eric is captain of the football team and has twice led the team to state titles. He teases Landon about his friendship with Jamie, and sometimes his humor has a cruel edge. But he is a loyal friend, and when he hears about Jamie’s illness he apologizes to her for his past behavior. He also collects four hundred dollars to donate to the orphanage.
Mr. Jenkins is the director of the orphanage. He is a kind man who has known Jamie for a long time.
Eddie Jones is a skinny boy with pimples who offers to play the character Tom Thornton in the play. However, he is not good at the part and is having second thoughts about it, so he does not mind giving way when Landon offers to take over the role.
Lew is a twenty-year-old mechanic who starts to date Angela Clark after Angela ends her relationship with Landon. Lew is an aggressive young man who almost picks a fight with Landon at the homecoming dance. He spikes the punch but deserts Angela when she gets drunk.
Hegbert Sullivan is a seventy-two-year-old Baptist minister, the father of Jamie. When he was younger, Hegbert worked for Landon’s unscrupulous grandfather, but quit to enter the ministry. His memory of his former employer has soured his relationship with the entire Carter family. Hegbert married late and was in his mid-fifties when Jamie was born. His wife died in childbirth and Hegbert has raised Jamie on his own. Hegbert is very protective of his young daughter but also inspires her with a love of God. Landon and his friends openly mock Hegbert, who in his sermons seems obsessed with denouncing “fornication.” Hegbert is well aware of this, and he does not trust Landon with his daughter. However, as Landon shows that he is capable of behaving responsibility, Hegbert attitude toward him softens.
Jamie Sullivan is the seventeen-year-old daughter of Hegbert Sullivan. She is a very religious girl, carrying her Bible around with her everywhere, and always talking about “the Lord’s plan.” She is happy and cheerful and sees the best in everyone and in every situation, always ready to help those in distress. There is an innocence about her. However, Jamie is not popular at school, because she is not “cool” like Margaret Hays or Angela Clark. She usually wears an old brown cardigan and puts her hair up in a bun. She appears to have no friends. She and Landon have known each other since second grade, but they barely talk to each other. Landon joins in with his friends in poking fun at her, and he takes her to the homecoming dance only because there is no one else available. As they slowly begin to become friends, Landon is embarrassed to be seen with her and continues to believe that he does not really like her. But eventually her positive qualities win him over. She is kind, patient, considerate, and optimistic, with an unshakeable religious faith.