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Literature / Tangerine

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Tangerine is a 1997 young adult novel by Edward Bloor. His first published novel; it won several awards and has become a widely used book for assigned reading in schools.

The novel's protagonist, Paul Fisher, wears coke-bottle glasses due to an incident in his youth. The official story is that he stared too long at a solar eclipse, but Paul knows better than that. He's struggling to remember a moment from his past, related to his eyesight and his asshole brother Erik, that he can't dig up no matter how hard he tries. And if that wasn't enough, his family's move to Tangerine County, Florida, isn't going well, what with wild weather out the wazoo, such as sinkholes enveloping schools, and lightning striking the same place every single day. Can Paul deal with his football-hero brother, excel at soccer, and learn the truth about his past?

Unrelated to the 2015 Tangerine. Or a 2013 Estonian film Tangerines.

This novel contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Luis Cruz; the best tangerine farmer in Tangerine County. Erik is believed to be one by his and Paul's parents, and Antoine Thomas, the quarterback on Erik's football team, is one as well.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Paul himself doesn't know if Erik brings out the worst in his friends, making their heinous actions more Toxic Friend Influence, or if Erik is good at finding people who complement his sociopathic tendencies.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Erik and Arthur react this way to Mike Costello's death, laughing and making jokes about it (i.e., they call him "Mohawk Man" due to half his hair being singed off when the bolt struck him).
  • Artistic License Sports: One of the book's climactic moments features Paul needing to stop a last-second penalty kick so that his team will tie their rival and his former team, winning the league in the process. It's a fairly uplifting idea with one small problem: it completely gets wrong the way soccer leagues are scored. See, Paul's team is undefeated whereas the other team is undefeated but has played one more game during the season; the additional game ended in a tie. The problem? According to the scoring rules for soccer leagues, the winner is the team with the most points at the end of the season, not just the highest winning percentage. Since a tie is worth one point and a win is worth three, Paul's team needs to win, not tie, in order to win the league. And to make matters worse, they could have done this if they had just had the climactic penalty kick occur with Paul's team up by one goal. But of course, that would be less dramatic...
  • Big Brother Instinct: Paul's brother Erik hits Tino Cruz when he, Theresa, and Henry D. come to Paul's house for a group project, so Luis, Tino's older brother, comes to Lake Windsor High to take a shot at Erik.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Luis is this not only to his own siblings but Henry D. mentions that most of the kids on the War Eagles soccer team owe him for rides or other help.
  • Big Brother Worship: Luis, who is idolized by his younger siblings Tino and Theresa.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The entire community, including Mr. and Mrs. Fisher, become witness to Erik and Arthur's true nature, which leads to Arthur getting arrested for murder and Erik outed as The Sociopath with Sticky Fingers, but Paul during his journey for self-respect and taking charge of his own destiny gets expelled from Tangerine Middle, Paul is not unhappy though.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Paul eventually confronts his parents about his brother's role in blinding him. They rationalize hiding it as "keeping him from hating his brother". Paul simply asks if it was better for him to keep hating himself. His parents give him no response to that, and while they have loved him throughout the years, clearly, his father mostly breaks down like a baby. His mother cried too throughout the conversation, but she has shown her son more love than his father has, and most probably always had better intentions.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Tino and Victor get caught (and suspended) for every single little individual thing they do wrong, no matter how intentional or accidental. It's usually petty things like getting into fights and accidental vandalism. While Paul stops short of directly contrasting them to Erik and Arthur, he does comment on how his parents and the Bauers literally buy Erik and Arthur out of being prosecuted for burglary because they have enough cash to guarantee full restitution for the lost items, even if they can't recover the items themselves.
  • Doesn't Know Their Own Child: Paul demonstrates as much when he quizzes his dad about his soccer season, who gets so frustrated that he asks "How am I supposed to know that?" When he pivots to asking questions about Erik's football season, Paul's dad gets the point— he knows everything about Erik, but nothing about Paul. And he's so far in denial about Erik being a psycho, too. Until the end anyway.
  • Dolled-Up Installment / Spiritual Successor: Two years later, Edward Bloor wrote a followup titled Crusader, it qualifies as both, because even though it is unrelated character and plot wise to its precursor, there are some obvious similarities, such as both are set in Florida, both have kids as protagonists and main characters, and both stories list their events as days in the chapters.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Mike Costello, who dies suddenly from a lightning strike during football practice near the book's beginning.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Fishers. Erik is a total dick and likely sociopath, Mrs. Fisher is neurotic as hell, completely oblivious to Erik's bad traits, and pities her other son and babies him as if he cannot even see, Mr. Fisher ignores Paul in favor of Erik and yet still manages to not see his bad traits, though he does at the end, and though he is more in favor of Erik than Paul he does coddle him at times though, and Paul wears coke-bottle glasses, he even boasts at the end about being such a "bad guy." The Bauers are mostly one as well.
  • Foil:
    • Paul and Erik, the former being the less prominent, more socially awkward soccer player compared to his seemingly successful and popular football player brother.
    • Paul and Joey; though best friends, the two have completely contrasting relationships with their brothers and parents. Also, while Paul adjusts relatively well to Tangerine Middle School, Joey is unable to cope with his new classmates.
    • Erik and Luis (the most prominent example in the novel).
    • Erik is foiled against several other characters' older brothers. Besides Tino's and Theresa's brother Luis, there's also Joey's brother Mike (not a star football player but not a bad one, and already accepted into a choice college in spite of it), Henry D.'s brother Wayne (impeccably polite and cheerful, as well as helpful and friendly to his younger brother and his friends), and Shandra's brother Antoine (also a star football player, but forced to break the eligibility rules in order to get the recognition he needs to capitalize on his football career and earn the same college scholarships Mr. Fisher is so set on Erik attracting).
  • Handicapped Badass: Paul once he starts playing soccer. It's part of his Character Development.
  • Implausible Deniability: Mr. and Mrs. Fisher about Erik's true nature. They end up sobbing when Paul confronts them about knowing that Erik made him legally blind. By the end of the book, they're no longer in denial.
  • Inner City School: Tangerine Middle, in stark contrast to Lake Windsor Middle. (In case you haven't figured it out yet, this book likes to contrast wildly different things).
  • I Warned You: Mrs. Fisher's parents, aka Paul's grandparents, make it quite clear that they had warned the family years ago that Erik needed either a doctor or at least a wake-up call to hurting Paul, namely by pouring paint into his eyes. Though they do admit that there is no easy solution.
  • Jerkass: Erik, full stop. Vincent and Arthur to a lesser extent.
  • Jerk Jock: Erik, though he's much more dangerous than most examples, crossing over into outright murder by the end.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Paul's friends at Tangerine are initially a bit rough around the edges (which eventually leads to Joey leaving the school), but ultimately become good friends with Paul.
  • Karma Houdini: Prior to the death of Luis Cruz, Erik Fisher had never experienced a single consequence of any action he ever took. When he terrorized and injured his younger brother's eyes, his parents actively covered it up and Paul mentions several incidents where his parents gently reminded him that his bad eyesight means he can't trust his beliefs that Erik is trying to hurt him— bad eyesight that he only has because Erik hurt him. When Erik turns out to be a seriously gifted football player, on top of being the better off son, this gets to be even more extreme, as his parents pour everything they have into ensuring he has a successful football career, even moving halfway across the country to a developing area where Erik will be the big fish in the small pond and more able to attract more prestigious college scholarships. Paul constantly derides the "Erik Fisher Football Dream" that runs their lives in his narration, and his parents continue the pattern of making excuses for him even after Erik's grades start slipping, ignoring him hitting his little brother's friends, and getting caught stealing expensive jewelry and valuables from their neighbors, going so far as to pay off people whose items can't be recovered and begging them not to press charges against Erik. Ironically, Mr. Bauer, the father of Erik's flunky, insists that having his parents pay for his crimes, beg not to have charges brought, and sulking silently while his parents explain all this is "making up for it" like a man. Murder is quite literally the only thing Erik can't get away with.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: While Arthur is arrested for the murder of Luis Cruz, Erik is left with only house arrest, although Mr. Fisher makes it clear that the justice system isn't finished with Erik and they're not hiring a lawyer for Erik. Not to mention everyone knows that Erik is a monster now. This leaves him with no friends, a family that looks on him with disgust and mild concern, and a permanently tarnished reputation. He won't get to play football at college, which was what he valued the most.
  • Kick the Dog: Erik makes a profession out of this trope.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Erik gets a black eye at the dedication ceremony, courtesy of Victor and his friends avenging Luis. It's the only time someone lands a hit of him, and he's ashamed to admit what happened.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: When Paul confesses that he was the one who told on Tino and Victor wrecking the freaks exhibit at the fair, Tino tells him to turn around and gives him a firm kick in the rear. "If any of your Lake Windsor homeboys ask about what happened when I found out, you tell them about that." In other words, Tino expects him to say "He kicked my ass."
  • Meaningful Echo: The first time Paul's grandparents visit after Erik injured his eyes, Paul's mother quietly warns him not to tell them "anything bad." When they suddenly arrive at the denouement, right as Erik has been put under house arrest for murder, Mrs. Fisher helplessly asks "What are we going to tell them?" and Paul responds, "We're going to tell them something bad."
  • Missing Mom: Even when Paul stays overnight at the Cruz farm, there's no reference to the Cruz children's mother.
  • My Beloved Smother: Paul's parents spoil his older brother Erik rotten and are dismissive of the terrible things he does (though they do know what he did to his younger brother earlier on), but they do coddle their other son. Paul's mother babies him much more than his father does, though his father does in a few instances, whether they feel guilt or are just self-pitying is up to interpretation, but they do show genuine love towards him. In the story, Paul stays at home for days resting in bed and though he does not cough or sneeze, his mother worries to death that he is quite sick and demands him to stay home, and this goes on for six days! The day after Thanksgiving, Paul goes outside, something minor happens, and his father carries him back in, though his father does criticize him, both he and his wife check on Paul CONSTANTLY during the day, imagine your parents doing that, and if you were actually sick.
  • Nervous Wreck: Mrs. Fisher. Almost every scene she's in, she's worrying about something. Ironically enough, despite her constant fretting she can't seem to figure out what a douchebag Erik is.
  • Nice Guy: Paul, in stark contrast to his brother. Luis also counts.
  • The Nicknamer: Victor from the Tangerine Middle School soccer team. He's the one who dubs Paul "Fisher Man," and calls Joey "Tuna" after noticing how close he sticks to "Fisher Man." There's another boy on the team named Cesar, who he calls "Cesar Salad" up until he scores a goal. After that, "His name is Julius Cesar now, the emperor of all Rome!"
  • Only in Florida: The novel plays a lighter version of this trope, combining it with Slobs Versus Snobs. One of the subplots is about how the upper-middle-class families of the Lake Windsor Downs development keep fighting against the natural oddities of their particular corner of Florida, and how Florida just keeps fighting back: eternal fires, sink holes, lightning strikes, and mosquitoes. By the time the deep freeze comes around, they just break out the hot cocoa and fake fire logs in defeat, while the lower-class families of Tangerine are busy trying to save their orchards.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The only people who call Paul "Paul" are his family and Luis Cruz. To the Lake Windsor Middle School soccer team, he's "Mars," after their goalie got a look at his sports goggles and yelled "Yowza! It came from Mars!" His soccer team at Tangerine Middle calls him "Fisher Man," after his last name.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Mike Costello's parents live through the book, although he dies from a lightning strike near the beginning.
    • Tomas Cruz is seen in the book after his son Luis dies.
  • Parents as People: Mr. and Mrs. Fisher are this; they spoil Erik rotten and baby Paul, to the point where Paul says he is sick of his mother's pity. It turns out they had no idea what they were doing when Erik used paint to blind Paul when they were younger, and Mrs. Fisher at least admits that it was a situation they weren't prepared to handle.
  • Parental Favouritism: Mr. Fisher blatantly favors Erik over Paul, due to his status as a high school football star, though he does seem overprotective of Paul at times and is not extremely unloving towards him. It bites him in the ass very badly at the ending. Mrs. Fisher, thankfully, is kinder to both her sons despite covering up what Erik did to him when he was younger, she is close to her younger son and worries about him constantly even to the point of annoyance.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Both Mr. and Mrs. Fisher have absolutely no idea Erik is such a jerk and murderer by proxy until the very end. Actually somewhat subverted, in that they knew Vincent and Erik had sprayed paint into Paul's eyes, weakening his vision, they just didn't tell him because they didn't want him to go through life hating his brother. Though one wonders if keeping it a secret from the boy really was a smart idea...
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: It's not so blatantly stated, but Paul observes that his parents and the Bauers literally buy Erik and Arthur a second chance after they get caught burglarizing the homes being fumigated for termites— they convince the homeowners not to press charges because they can get their expensive belongings released to them and guarantee cash repayment for anything that hasn't been recovered, and not-so-subtly point out that if this goes through the legal system, the police will keep everything that was stolen as evidence. One of the homeowners calls this out as blackmail, and delivers a pretty strong rebuke to the Fishers and Bauers, but Erik and Arthur spend the whole meeting sulking while their mommies and daddies ensure they will face no consequences. It's also implied that their comparative wealth to Luis Cruz is what causes them to think they can get away with attacking him— when he dies of his injuries, Arthur's father defends them by saying he was a nobody who didn't belong at their privileged high school.
  • Shadowland: Tangerine Middle, which is basically a rougher version of Lake Windsor Middle.
  • Selective Obliviousness:
    • Paul thinks his father saw Erik hit Tino Cruz, a boy several years younger than him, and ignored it.
    • Paul also vaguely references instances in his childhood where he tried to tell his parents that Erik attempted to hurt him, and they essentially gaslighted him, reminding him that his eyesight is bad and threatening to take his temperature.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: See Only in Florida, above.
  • The Sociopath: While the word is never used to describe him in-universe, Erik definitely fits this trope. Arthur Bauer probably counts as well.
  • Stepford Smiler: Quite a few characters; notably Joey, Erik, and Paul's mother. Erik is probably the king of this trope. The genuine people in the novel are found by exiting suburbia (achieved by Lake Windsor Middle getting sucked into a sinkhole and the kids being spread across the county) and rubbing elbows with tangerine farmers like Luis, and other "real" people.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Lake Windsor Downs is trying really hard to be one, and Paul's mother is particularly invested in her nice house in a nice neighborhood. The main thing working against the Lake Windsor families is how hard the natural oddities of Florida refuse to be tamed— Mr. Donnelly's half-dozen lightning rods kind of ruin the image.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Paul gets furious when he remembers that Erik and one of his friends poured paint into Paul's eyes. The damage led to him becoming legally blind. As he tells his parents, hiding the truth from him made Paul hate himself rather than his brother and turned Erik into a Karma Houdini. It turns out this is why Paul's grandparents stopped talking to his family; they were furious on Paul's behalf and said his parents should have taken Erik to a doctor for his sociopathy, or at least punished him in some way. As the grandparents put it at the end, Mr. and Mrs. Fisher taught Erik that he could get away with anything and be rewarded for it. Thus, they have no one but themselves to blame for Erik facing criminal charges.
    • Erik thinks that he and Arthur can get away with killing Luis because they're wealthy and Luis is a nobody; besides which he thinks the only witness is Paul. Paul tells them more than one person saw the altercation; sure enough, when Joey and Antoine tell the police what happened, they come roaring in a squad car and arrest Arthur, confiscating the murder weapon from Arthur's car. They also put Erik under house arrest when they learn he gave the order to murder Luis. If enough people care, sometimes justice will trudge forward.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Erik is very good at persuading his "friends" to engage in various criminal acts, making them believe they'll get away with it. When his hold is broken, Paul's father says that none of his other friends are willing to cover for Erik after Arthur was arrested.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Paul's father witnesses Erik hit Tino Cruz, and ignores it. Tino's brother Luis goes to confront Erik about it, and Erik gets Arthur Bauer to hit him in the head. Luis eventually dies of his injuries, and Arthur is arrested for murder while Erik is under house arrest as the one who told him to do it. Paul's parents allowed a man to be killed and lost their football star son because they ignored his bad behavior not just this time, but every other single time he witnessed it.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Paul receives one near the end of the book from both the Inner City School principal and his classmates for attacking a coach, which leads to his expulsion from all public schools. Though the principal puts in a good word for him at the school where he transfers, and she makes it clear she has to follow the letter of the law. Paul also decides to accept his fate.