Papa Chance is a former MLB pitcher who has settled down with his wife in the mill town of Camas, Washington. They have six children.
Everett Chance, the eldest, is a natural politician and powerful speaker whose passionate opposition to the Vietnam war creates much of the family tension in the book. He spends much time and effort pursuing a young Russian literature student named Natasha and finally wins her heart from draft exile in British Columbia by sending her an epic letter/novel. Everett does not have great natural athletic gifts but is a scrappy competitor.
Second oldest, Peter Chance, is the intellectual brother who will study at Harvard and then in India. Though a natural athlete, Peter spends most of the book having renounced gifts of the body in his dogged pursuit of spiritual growth. After being kidnapped by con artists on an Indian train he finds enlightenment and he returns to the family in their hour of need.
Irwin is an innocent, possessing a childlike devotion to faith. He is sent to the war in Vietnam, where he is changed forever.
Kincaid Chance, the youngest brother, narrates the book yet is the member of the family we finally learn the least about.