Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2602
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.
Unlike at his home, riven by unspoken hostilities and buried secrets and terrorized from a series of unexplained break-ins, Paul finds the Cruz family generous and open and the farm inviting and invigorating. The friendship is further nurtured when Paul works with Tino and his friends on a science paper about Luis’s new tangerine. During the visit, Luis explains the work of a citrus nursery, how different varieties of tangerines are spliced into the same rough tree stock; in short, how such a beautiful abundance of fruit must be grown by transplanting seedlings into an unpromising host, suggesting Paul’s own maturation within the rough world of Tangerine Middle School. When the soccer season closes in a dramatic tie with Paul’s old school, Paul finds himself in tears on the bus on the way back to Tangerine, feeling at last part of a team.
When a freak Thanksgiving ice storm threatens the citrus crop, Paul volunteers to help stoke the smudge pots for a long, harrowing night during which he bonds in a most profound way with the Cruz family. Even as Paul grows into tolerance across race, gender, and ethnic divisions, his brother fights with Tino over insensitive slurs Erik had made when Tino visited Paul’s house to work on the science project. When Luis comes to the football practice field to teach Erik a lesson, Erik has a friend blindside Luis with a blackjack. Luis’s resulting head injury triggers an aneurysm, and within days he is dead. Paul, waiting to pick up Erik after practice and out of sight under the stadium bleachers, had witnessed the cheap hit and also knew his brother’s culpability. The police blame Luis’s death on a branch that had fallen during the night of the freeze. Only Paul knows the truth. He is haunted—after he attends Luis’s burial, he collapses, sobbing, in his backyard and digs deeply into the sugar sand until he hits the rich soil that the developers had so carelessly covered. It is then that Paul bonds with the dead citrus farmer, Luis, whom he decides is now part of him.
During an awards night to recognize his brother’s undefeated football team, Tino and his friends come into the gym and begin a fight with Erik. At a dramatic moment of decision, Paul helps his friends from Tangerine and jumps the football coach who had grabbed one of them. When the Tangerine kids make their escape from the school, Paul as well runs out into the night, where he is confronted by his brother, swinging a metal baseball bat. Paul tells him what he knows—but Erik and his friend dismiss it because Paul is “blind.” A chance remark by Erik triggers a flood of clarifying memory—Paul recalls the circumstances of his eye injury, how his brother had vandalized a wall with spray paint and had been caught, how he had blamed his little brother, and how Erik had held Paul’s eyes open while a friend sprayed paint directly into them. Paul is stunned by the implications of his memory—specifically how his parents had protected their golden boy and how they had let Paul suffer, hating himself for stupidly staring into an eclipse.
Quickly Erik’s malevolence is revealed. It is he and his friend who are behind the neighborhood break-ins. When Erik’s friend is arrested for the death of Luis, Paul tells the arresting officers what he saw under the bleachers, including his brother’s responsibility. The parents begin to see that the pampered Erik needs help. When Paul is expelled for the rest of the school year for jumping the coach, he transfers to a nearby Catholic school and, in a ritual assertion of his new identity, throws out his old clothes and outfits himself in the new school’s uniform. Paul is ready now to begin the most difficult challenge of his adolescence, restoring a relationship with his father. In the closing scene, the father is driving Paul to the new school. It is a beautiful Florida morning, and the hanging muck fires have been, at least temporarily, lifted by a sweet morning breeze. The air clear, scented with citrus, Paul heads at last into a golden dawn of his own.
First published: 1999
Type of work: Novel
A journalism student, haunted by her mother’s unsolved murder during a robbery, exposes local political corruption and investigates hate crimes at the mall where she works; in the process, she learns the truth about her mother’s death.
As Crusader opens, Roberta Ritter is at work, assembling an imposing “Crusader” figure as a promotion for the newest interactive video experience for her family’s struggling video arcade. In this virtual-reality game, players score points by “killing” hordes of “Muslims.” When one of the mall-shop owners, a Muslim, objects to the premise of the game and explains the actual history of the Crusades, Roberta confronts the difficult truth that good and evil are inextricably bound in the human character, that ignorance breeds prejudice, that prejudice leads to hate, and that hate expresses itself in violence. It is the beginning of her education into the wisdom of tolerance. It is also a lesson in the need to confront even the most painful realities. Roberta herself has spent seven years insulating herself from the implications of her own mother’s death—knifed during a robbery of the family’s previous arcade—by telling herself that her mother had died from a heart attack.
In a novel whose multiple plot lines hinge on the deception of surfaces and the complex reality of good and evil, Bloor tests the need to confront, the ease with which difficult realities are ignored, and the disparity between appearances and realities. Nothing is as it appears—Roberta, as an intern for the local television station, learns techniques for splicing videotape in ways that create entirely new “realities.” The mall where she works struggles to stay open while pretending to be prosperous, even launching an interior renovation centering on a showy fountain that is ironically connected with ancient, rusted pipes that end up leaking sewer gas. Dawg, a muscle-bound football lunkhead, is blamed for the rash of hate crimes because the police are certain that he “looks” like a redneck. Railroaded, Dawg is outfitted with an electronic monitoring device but, refusing to be framed for something he did not do, he runs deliberately into highway traffic in a stunning act of suicide. His friend, called Ironman because of his bulk and his T-shirts bearing Satanic legends, reveals an unexpected depth of feeling over his friend’s death, grieving so deeply that he is driven to a suicide attempt of his own.
In short, Roberta’s world stays stubbornly contradictory. Every assumption she makes about people eventually shatters. Her beautiful cousin, so focused on her own photogenic looks, is afflicted by chicken pox. Scarred and devastated, she undergoes a spiritual transformation and reveals a genuine compassion for others, particularly Ironman, and ultimately decides to become a police officer. A local rising political star promises to help the mall, while his son negotiates to have it torn down and replaced by a swanky golf course. More distressing, Roberta comes to understand that the hate crimes against the Muslim shop owner have been perpetrated by her own uncle, a decorated Gulf War veteran who struggles with a secret drinking problem, all in an attempt to close the mall to protect the family from losing everything if the arcade has to declare bankruptcy.
Honesty is even more painful when it comes to Roberta’s father, who ignores Roberta (and the arcade’s considerable financial dilemma) to pursue a romance with the mall’s manager. Roberta’s friendship with a police detective investigating the hate crimes, however, gives her access to long-filed evidence from her mother’s murder, including the gruesome surveillance tape showing the knifing. Roberta’s investigation of a snake tattoo on the assailant’s arm leads her ultimately to determine that the killer, once a street addict, is now a charismatic televangelist whose cable show, which Roberta watches during long nights she is left alone by her father, celebrates forgiveness. Roberta discovers that her father had once been a cocaine addict and had hired the man to rob the family video store to pay off a loan shark, whom the father had used to pay for drugs. Although the father never intended the killing, Roberta cannot forgive him.
Mrs. Weiss, a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust who now owns a card shop in the mall and who serves as the novel’s uncompromising moral conscience, had taken a keen interest in Roberta’s upbringing. Upon her death, Mrs. Weiss leaves Roberta the shop and her home. Thus, Roberta is in a position to estrange herself from her father, which she does.
In the powerful closing scene, Roberta goes to the spot where her family arcade had stood and lays a wreath made of objects she had kept from her mother—photos, her arcade smock, her beloved Dr. Seuss books. She is overcome with unexpected compassion for those street kids whose tough lives make violent crime inevitable and hope difficult. Roberta’s heart expanded, her compassion evident, she prays for them. It is a deeply spiritual closing. In a world of political spin-doctoring, phony “reality” talk shows, hate crimes that scapegoat minorities, virtual reality games, videotape faux-realities, and expensive cosmetic makeovers (all elements of Bloor’s intricate plot), Roberta emerges as an uncompromising point of moral honesty, at last a crusader of her own.