(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Owing to Bloor’s classroom experience, his novels resist the clichés of young-adult escapist fiction by creating central characters who, despite being “only” in middle school, exhibit a precocious sensibility, curiosity, rich vulnerability, and driving determination to discover truth amid the hypocrisies and easy lies of friends and adults. Bloor’s realistic novels take place in a recognizable world of malls and soccer fields, overcrowded classrooms and hastily built housing developments. Bloor deploys the intimacy of first-person narration, allowing the plot to be revealed by adolescent characters, thus creating a sustaining seriousness to their predicaments. His central characters tend to be misfits who struggle within fractured families. Unable to fit within the precarious social environment of public schools, these characters rely on their own sensibilities and find that honest confrontation with who they are leads to a sustaining peace and, finally, to the challenge of accepting others.

Thus, Bloor’s novels are tales of moral growth, nuanced and symbol-rich parables of adolescents earning redemption in a world crossed by the heavy pressure of evil. Unlike the cartoon evil that defines contemporary young-adult fiction, Bloor insists that evil, the menacing logic of violence and brutality, is a stubborn element of people who appear otherwise unexceptional. In novels set ironically amid the wash of the bright Florida sun, characters reveal a dark propensity for mayhem. Parents, friends, teachers, politicians, neighbors—each, in turn, betrays an inexplicable willingness to lie, to cheat, to steal, to hurt, and ultimately even to kill. Trust becomes a precarious investment, loyalty a risk, friendship rare and always defined against its own fragility. Such truth does not terrify in Bloor’s fiction—the problematic reward of awareness is the best strategy to gain the maturity necessary to accept others. Bloor’s upbeat vision, confident in the ability of the heart to grow and change, counsels education as the only way to combat closed-mindedness.

Structurally, Bloor challenges reader expectations by multiplying plot lines and splicing genres to create new reading experiences, essentially new genres. Tangerine is as much a sports novel as a searing family drama, Crusader as much a murder mystery as a probing social polemic, Story Time as much a burlesque of public education as a terrifying tale of demonic possession. Cinematic in their generous use of plot, with Bloor’s pitch-perfect ear for adolescent conversation (no doubt from his years in the classroom), the novels surely entertain but serve ultimately to return their young readers to the world around them with new awareness.

There is a clear-eyed immediacy to Bloor’s fiction—despite a reputation for gothicism, these novels do not indulge in such ornamental (and simplistic) excess. Bloor understands that the world is a complex of apparently good people doing evil things and apparently evil people doing good things. In that way, Bloor, ever the teacher, treats his readers, despite their young ages, much as he treats his central characters: as tough, reasonable minds whose tender hearts need to be coaxed toward important, if difficult, truths.


First published: 1997

Type of work: Novel

A precocious, legally blind seventh-grader comes to understand his relationship with a violent older brother and the effects of bigotry during a championship soccer season.

Paul Fisher is an outsider. Transplanted at the beginning of his seventh-grade year from Houston to Florida, where his father has accepted a position as county engineer and where his older brother, Erik, a talented place-kicker, can pursue options for scholarships in a state fanatic about football, Paul does not easily fit in. Told that during an eclipse when he was five he foolishly stared directly into the sun and permanently damaged his eyes, he is now legally blind and wears thick glasses that have made him both self-conscious and introspective. Indeed, his lengthy journal entries form part of the book. Paul is bothered by recollections that suggest that there might be more to his eye injury than he had been told. He resists the implications, preferring to live uneasily in the shadow of his older brother—and ever in eclipse. Erik is routinely cruel to Paul, unbeknown to his parents, particularly his father, who dotes on his older son’s football talent and largely ignores Paul’s considerable skills as a soccer goalie.

Adjustment to life in Florida is difficult for the Fishers. Their development community, plagued by the effects of its irresponsible construction (entire groves of citrus trees were hastily bulldozed, leaving new homes susceptible to termite infestations and the heavy stink from underground muck fires that continuously burn), symbolizes how long-ago mistakes inevitably take their toll until they are resolved. The middle school is a dreary row of portable classrooms, wooden shacks threaded by muddy walkways. Paul tries out for the school’s soccer team, only to be dismissed when transfer paperwork listing him as handicapped makes him ineligible to serve in any spot except manager. Crushed, Paul is given a second chance when, during a heavy rainstorm, a fifty-foot sinkhole swallows a chunk of the school. He transfers to nearby rival Tangerine Middle School where, for the first time, he finds himself a minority student.

When Paul goes out for the school’s soccer team, he begs his mother not to file his handicapped papers. He earns a spot as backup goalie to a girl—whose considerable skills give Paul his first lesson in expanding his perspective. The real impact of his transfer to Tangerine, however, centers on Paul’s adjustment to the school’s minority presence, particularly that of the tough Latino students who work as citrus farmers. Paul gets to know the Cruz family through Tino, who plays soccer. The older brother, Luis, is a maverick citrus grower who has developed a new strain of seedless tangerine, called Golden Dawn, which promises a wide market appeal. Paul visits their nursery, with its crude Quonset huts and its minimum appointments—a vivid contrast to his gated community where residents fret over matching mailboxes and uniform Tudor trim....

(The entire section is 2602 words.)