When I first bought
Edward Bloor's Tangerine
, the flap summary, the various covers, and the information online all led me to believe the book had a supernatural component: the blind can see, predictable lightning that does strike twice, geeks are cool — up is down, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria — and cryptic hints of an evil older brother. It sounds closer in style to a Goosebumps
title than your average young-adult fiction, but it's far better than that.
At the core of this story is a common trope: kid moves to a new city, full of the unfamiliar and populated by kinds of people he's never met before. Paul Fisher's family starts the book in transit, moving from Houston to a development in Tangerine County, Florida. Lake Windsor Downs is a representative modern development, a series of cookie-cutter houses on curvy streets, abruptly bordering the swampland that it overlays like a toy town rolled out on a sheet of Astroturf. The families are perfect, the houses are perfect, the school is perfect, everything is bright and cheery, although it rests upon swamp that's been burning for years, re-ignited by the frequent lightning strikes from the daily thunderstorms.
Paul is hampered by damaged eyes, apocryphally attributed to looking directly at an eclipse of the sun, but he sees more than anyone believes. He starts out the school year with the mark of a disability in his folder, which entitles him to special treatment, but he soon proves himself better than his 20/20-sighted peers as a soccer goalie. A series of events, a lightning strike, a sinkhole, and a soccer problem, sends Paul to Tangerine Middle School, which shows Paul the huge chasm between the clean artificiality of his home in Lake Windsor and the lower classes of the original community around which developments have grown. Although nothing in the book is outright supernatural, Bloor describes the unnatural Lake Windsor with all the other-worldliness a transplanted teenager would see in it, thick glasses or not. The mysterious events which drive the story all have natural explanations, although their influence on Paul's life conspire to force him to grow, to see things for what they are, and stand up for himself against the schools, his peers, and his family, for what he knows as the truth.
Wifey and I have lamented the lack of "boy literature," books that appeal to boys without being fantasy, TV-related, or comic books, and this is probably the best fit I've seen recently. The book is dark, contains a mystery, and includes a couple deaths — and prominently features sports. The main character is geeky and plays soccer, while the main antagonists of the story are popular and play football, which still leans towards the kind of book a nerdy bookworm would identify with, but it moves in the right direction. The back cover says the book is for ages 12 and up, which is a reasonable description because the realistic nature of the story is a bit intense, as opposed to giant robots hitting each other. The story itself is deeply rooted in the world of late 20th century Florida, Bloor's stomping grounds, and it focuses sharply on the world a boy in Florida would encounter. More than just topics a boy would enjoy, Paul's world is sharply boyish. Communication is through action, friendship is tenuous and rooted in aggression, and there's no long monologues about how the characters feel. Even between friends, Paul Fisher's conversations are choppy and indirect, something familiar to anyone who's watched boys communicate in real life.
As an adult, there was no struggle for me to enjoy it. The book is 'young adult', which (especially when you include the Twilight
and Harry Potter
crowds) is becoming less of an indicator of substandard reading. The story is rather complex, draped in metaphor and strung with many well-formed characters and subplot threads, which Bloor masterfully twists together into a fluid story. There's a risk of adding plots and characters to fill pages, and some of the soccer-season stuff in the middle begins to feel like filler, but Bloor's story for Paul Fisher moves forward in a very natural way, despite the fantastic elements. Given the use of language and the complexity underneath the story, age 12 is probably still a good lower boundary for reading, but there's no upper boundary. Know a grown-up who isn't much into reading fiction? This book would be a good starting point if he's usually spending his spare time watching sports on TV. Requiring little suspension of disbelief despite the fantastic elements, and giving more than one might expect from a young adult book, Edward Bloor's Tangerine
is an excellent novel, for kids and adults alike.Tangerine
, by Edward Bloor
294 pages, 6" x 9" hardcover
Harcourt Brace & Co.
Labels: book reviews, fiction, young adult