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...
(The entire section is 1,204 words.)