Fiona is Marcus’ mother. She suffers from depression and finds it difficult just to get through the day sometimes. She tells Marcus that she loves him but resents him too, and thinks that being his mum is not enough for her. In her suicide note to him she asks him not to hate her. It is hard for the reader not to judge Fiona, because she has a 12-year-old son to look after, but depression is a terrible illness and, as Fiona writes to Marcus,
It just doesn’t listen to anything or anybody else. It just wants to do its own thing.
Fiona is regarded by Will as a hippy, because she wears long, baggy clothes and never bothers to have her hair cut properly. She makes Marcus listen to her favourite music, such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, and has never allowed him to eat meat. She is not much use to him when he is being bullied, just telling him that he will have to get used to it. Fiona has problems keeping relationships with men and admits to Will that she worries about this. She has remained on fairly good terms with Clive, Marcus’ father, and even invites him, his girlfriend Lindsey, and Lindsey’s mother to spend Christmas day with her and Marcus in London. Overall, Fiona is a good person but she has to learn to let Marcus make his own decisions about life.
Ellie is a girl at the same school as Marcus. She is three years older than he is, and is in Year 10. She is a fan of the band Nirvana, and loves the lead singer, Kurt Cobain. She feels that he understands the awful problems which face teenagers. She always wears a sweatshirt with a picture of Cobain on the front, and it is because of this that she is outside the head teacher’s room on the day that Marcus has to be there too.
Marcus admires her for her fearlessness. He is slightly afraid of her at first, but gradually comes to adore her. Ellie helps Marcus to deal with the bullies, and she and her friend Zoe look after Marcus during the dinner break at school, taking him to their form room. Ellie is amused by Marcus, and when she realises that he knows nothing about Kurt Cobain, she teases him, saying that Cobain is a footballer with Manchester United. Other pupils are impressed by the way that Marcus is taken under Ellie’s wing, and he no longer faces problems in school. When there is an incident at a newsagent’s shop after school, Ellie threatens the bullies and they leave Marcus alone after that.
Marcus goes to Suzie’s New Year’s Eve party and sees Ellie there. They chat about their mothers – Ellie says that her mother always ends up kissing the same man at midnight on New Year’s Eve and always regrets it the next day. Ellie seems to get on very well with her mother on the whole. She tells Marcus that she just wants her mother to be happy, and this makes Marcus think about his own mother.
When Kurt Cobain attempts to kill himself but fails, Ellie is very upset. She tells Marcus that Cobain hates this world and just wants to die, even though he has a wife and a little girl. This makes Marcus compare his own situation with that of Kurt Cobain, and he feels very sad. Ellie goes on the train with Marcus to Cambridge, but as it is on the actual day when Kurt Cobain succeeds in killing himself, she is in a strange mood and is determined to get drunk. She frightens Marcus and seems out of control. When she tells Marcus that
life is shit he questions her, asking if she really thinks that, because to him her life does not look too bad. They are hardly speaking to each other when the train stops at Royston and Ellie jumps off.
She goes into the town, followed by Marcus. When Ellie sees a life-size cardboard cut-out of Kurt Cobain in a music shop window, she becomes furious, saying that the shop owner is exploiting Cobain’s death. She breaks the window, taking out the cut-out and sitting on the pavement with it. The police take Ellie and Marcus to the police station and they wait for their parents to arrive. Ellie’s mother, Katrina, seems used to Ellie being in these types of situations, and admits that, while she had hoped that Ellie would grow up to be a rebel, she now wishes that she had an ordinary daughter who stayed at home. Ellie meets Ruth, the owner of the music shop, and everyone is struck by how similar the two girls look. They get on extremely well.
Ellie is an important character in the book because she provides Marcus with an image of a single parent family which functions well, although it has its problems too. Through Ellie, he realises that there are many types of people in the world and we just have to make the best of those with whom we are involved.
Rachel is the woman with whom Will falls in love for the first time in his life. She is another single parent, and has a 12-year-old boy called Ali. She is entirely self-sufficient and has many interests. Her house is very welcoming, and Will feels comfortable with her there. Rachel is the first woman who makes Will feel he needs to be truthful. He eventually admits that Marcus is not his son and that he let her think he was so that she would like him. Rachel is very insightful and tells Will that he is a good man, and that she admires him for the help he has given Marcus, although he did not have to do so.
She also allows Will to deal with Fiona in a very clever way. She lets Will think that she will meet him and Fiona one evening, so that Fiona can talk about her depression, but when Rachel does not turn up, Will realises that Rachel intended all along to leave him alone with Fiona so that they could have a serious talk. Will worries that he will lose Rachel, but she teaches him that this is a risk that we all have to take. Nobody can be insulated from life’s disasters unless they choose to live outside human society, and that is very lonely. Will is deeply in love with Rachel by the end of the novel.
Clive is Marcus’ father. He lives in Cambridge and smokes a lot of
dope. He left Fiona and Marcus, which prompted their move to London. It is not clear whether Fiona was depressed before she split with Clive, or whether she became depressed afterwards, but Clive does tell Marcus that he feels bad about leaving them, saying
I shouldn’t have wandered off. He has a girlfriend called Lindsey, and he asks Marcus at the end whether he would mind if Lindsey and Clive were to have a baby. Marcus tells him that he likes babies, which is not exactly true, but he figures that it would mean one extra person in his life. Marcus does not really take his father seriously because he is always stoned.
Clive is more important as an absent character than when he does appear, because Marcus feels that he should have been around more, and the few appearances he makes in the novel illustrate how small a part he plays in Marcus’ life.