Tangerine is a novel set in the fictional town of Tangerine, Florida, which is based on the real-life town of Celebration, Florida.
- The novel centers on Paul Fisher, a twelve-year-old boy who is new to the town. Paul is legally blind and wears thick glasses. He is an outsider at his new school, Tangerine Middle School, and struggles to fit in.
- As Paul becomes friends with some of the students at his new school, he also becomes involved in the town’s citrus industry. When a freak ice storm threatens the citrus crop, Paul volunteers to help stoke the smudge pots for a long, harrowing night.
- During the ice storm, Paul bonds with the Cruz family, who are citrus farmers. However, tragedy strikes when Luis Cruz, the patriarch of the family, is killed. Paul is haunted by what he saw that night and by his brother’s involvement in the death.
- As Paul tries to make sense of what happened, he also must deal with his own memories of his eye injury and how it has affected his life. In the end, Paul comes to terms with his past and looks to the future with hope.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1179
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.