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The Wunderlichs are "two aging Socialists" (1.12) that run the Spirit-in-the-Woods art camp each summer. They're more interesting than your average camp counselors, though—they're described as "preservationists, not artists" (18.64), and have seen so many gifted people come through the camp that they've gotten crazy obsessed with the idea of talent. In other words, they're more interested in who their campers become than s'mores.
They lovingly read letters from people like Ash and Ethan, and treasure the knowledge that their camp is the first place these people really had a place to cultivate their talents. They don't actually care about the other details in people's lives, though, so it's a little off that they give up running the camp to Jules and Dennis—two people they'd never get a letter from because they've never amounted to anything of note. Perhaps that's actually why they let Jules and Dennis take on, though: They're more like Manny and Edie than their successful campers.
You think Goodman and Ash are privileged? Well, this is where they get it. Gil and Betsy are their parents, and Gil is some kind of financial guy (vague, we know) and Betsy stays at home to cook delicious meals and be beautiful. We'll admit they do seem to have a decent life together and a strong love for each other, and Ash even says they "practically tongue kiss in front of" (1.56) them.
Their love becomes kind of a nightmare, though, when it comes to their kids. When Goodman is arrested and flees, neither Gil nor Betsy even entertains the idea that he might be guilty, and they pour tons of money into getting their pals to get Goodman off the hook. These are stereotypically entitled rich people, and arguably the most interesting part of their story happens when they finally decide Goodman's too much of a burden and ask their daughter for help.
Let's be honest: It's probably a big pain to be Jules's family. She clearly thinks her mom (Lois) and sister (Ellen) are unsophisticated and kind of pathetic after spending her magical summer at camp, and she's a jerk about it most of the time. We've grouped Lois and Ellen together here because when Jules talks about her family it's often about both of them collectively, usually because she sees them as one big enemy to her dreams of better—read: richer—companions.
So who are they on their own? Ellen we don't know much about. She's the typical younger sister that only shows up to sass Jules, and they don't often speak in the book. Lois is a different story, though, because she gets the full force of Jules's displeasure with their life and home—she's the one we see saying nothing when Jules rearranges everything to not look so shabby when Ash comes over. Burn.
Lois is resilient, though, makes life work when her husband dies of cancer and she has two angry, grieving daughters to deal with. And in the end, she goes back to work doing something she enjoys later in life and doesn't feel the need to apologize for moving on. Unlike Jules, Lois chooses happiness instead of a life of yearning for what she can't have.
Barry is one creepy dude. He's the on-again-off-again boyfriend of Susannah Bay, and sometimes can almost be a father figure for Jonah. Big emphasis on the almost.See, he's pretty much the worst father figure ever because he takes complete advantage of Jonah's natural talent for music, repeatedly drugging the eleven-year-old to get him to make up all sorts of strange little songs, and then recording them for his own use. His one big hit song was actually written by Jonah. Ugh.
So why is he significant here, besides being an example of stranger danger? He's responsible for Jonah's obsession with stability and a lack of stimulation. He keeps Jonah from embracing music, Robert, or his own feelings by making Jonah feel like he lost his grip on reality as a young kid. He's the mysterious black mark on Jonah's past that keeps him from really connecting with his friends.
Okay, yes, Isadora only shows up in one significant scene and has a couple brief mentions elsewhere. But she is responsible for introducing Jules and Dennis… and that's pretty much it. So, yes—she's a very minor character.
The quick version: Jules meets Isadora in a class in college, Isadora later throws a dinner party and invites both Jules and her downstairs neighbor, Dennis. Isadora spills the beans about Dennis's depressive past, Jules and Dennis get together. Much later, Jules looks up Isadora's name out of curiosity and sees a death notice.
Isadora is basically a plot device, and also a reminder that even people we don't stay in touch with or like can fill an important and lasting role in our lives.
We wish there was a lot more to Robert than his status as Jonah's HIV-positive boyfriend, but there really isn't. He even refers to himself as "a poster child for the AIDS virus" (12.20). We know he's an attractive Japanese-American dude from a traditional family, and that he's super patient with Jonah's fear of overstimulation.
Eventually he leaves Jonah for someone who will fully commit themselves to loving him, and we can't say we really blame him. He gives Jonah ample chance to step up to the relationship plate. We're glad he is with Jonah for a while, though, if only because he helps the poor guy connect with someone in a way he really doesn't in the rest of the book.
We're not even going to guess if Susannah's supposed to be a specific folksinger from the 1970s, because the important part is that she's a folksinger. She's technically Jonah's mom, though we never really see her being motherly—which is definitely okay with Jonah. We do see her as a culturally-relevant figure in the early part of the book, though, and then again a few times later as she gets older and older and nobody really remembers her music anymore.
She's the classic aging musician trying to hang on to a bit of that fame, up until the extreme part where she joins a church on a farm because they value her music. She is "cherished" there, which comes as "a surprise" (12.151) to her. She's a pretty tragic character if you think of it that way, but then again she also seems to be super happy doing what she's doing. Maybe that's the point of Susannah: to show that human beings desperately need to be valued at any age.
There's always an old mentor character and Mo is it. He's part of Disney legend and yet spends his summers at a camp teaching Ethan (and other kids who aren't talented) about cartoons. Mo is there to give Ethan a father figure, since his own parents' lack of interest in him is the very subject of his famous cartoon. Ethan even becomes his caretaker as Mo gets on in years. Yay.
Three cheers for Gudrun's totally weird cameos, right? She pops up during that first teepee scene to tell people co-ed hangouts and pot are bad., and she pops up during the second major teepee scene to tell everyone their hearts will ache forever. The only other time we see her is in Iceland when we learn that she and her husband have been housing Goodman. She's described as "a blunt-haired weaving instructor and lifeguard" (1.90)—and along these lines, she weaves in and out of the character's lives, periodically saving them.
This girl is a whirlwind, unlike Dennis and Jules, who are her parents. Rory's like a condensed form of the kind of self-assured, self-knowing energy Jules doesn't have. Ash says she "likes to take control" (13.72)—she's Jules 2.0, the upgraded version that goes for what she wants instead of hating other people for having it.
Rory doesn't have talent or the kind of delicate beauty Ash's daughter has, but she knows who she is and what she wants out of life, and we feel absolutely sure at the end that she's going to make it happen. Jules fixates on this quality in her daughter because that kind of comfortable feeling about her own self is something she's never had.
Mo and Larkin sounds like the name of a terrible country duo, but instead they're Ash and Ethan's kids. Larkin is little miss perfect and Mo has an autism-spectrum disorder, and that's pretty much all you need to know about them.
Just kidding. They might be minor characters, but there's still more to then than that. Larkin is everything Rory is not—she's an extension of Ash's delicate beauty with a helping of Ethan's talent, and is often a target for Jules's jealous comparisons to her own kid. Thing is, we don't really know a whole lot about who Larkin is except when she's reacting to some quality in her parents, so you could say she's almost a kind of foil, there to bring out parts of their personalities and play them against each other.
Mo is similar, except that his diagnosis ends up being a way to flip the expectations of his parents' backgrounds. Ash, who comes from a super entitled family, turns out to be a uniquely patient and successful mother of a child with a developmental disorder. Ethan, who prides himself on having had to work for things, can't cope with the diagnosis and isn't really able to love his son. Mo is the monkey wrench in the otherwise perfect little family.