Saturday, September 26, 2009

REVIEW: Tangerine

Bloor, E. (1998) Tangerine
294 pages - 9780590432771

Thirty second summary: Despite being legally blind after a mysterious childhood accident, Paul Fisher can see what everyone else ignores. His brother is a bully who’s going from bad to worse, his parents are covering something up, and his new town of Tangerine is the weirdest place ever. With the help of his new friends, will Paul have the courage to see the truth about his family and his past?

God bless the Scholastic Book Club, because that’s how I acquired this gem of a novel. Tangerine may, in fact, be one of the most fantastic YA books of all time. The front cover looks like science fiction! The back cover sounds like a typical adventure! The inside reads like a sports story (soccer *and* football, no less) wrapped around a family drama and beaten over the head with some social commentary! There’s something for everyone, unless you happen to hate sports and adventures and coming-of-age stories and epic battles of good against evil and incredible writing and mysteries and oranges, in which case I have nothing more to say to you.

Tangerine also contains, brace for this, commentary about urban sprawl, a discussion of the lives of rural farmers, a bit about the problems of classism, and a surprisingly informative explanation of citrus fruit tree grafting. You’ll be treated to the battle of Man verses Nature – in Tangerine, muck fires burn constantly out in the fields, native ospreys are devouring the townspeople’s expensive koi, their houses are crumbling thanks to infestations of crazed, ground-dwelling termites, Paul’s school is sucked into a sinkhole.... There’s also a lesson about standing up to bullies, and although the final decision is obviously “You should because it’s the right thing to do,” there’s enough pain and cowardice thrown into the mix to make the situation realistic.

Paul’s uber-macho brother Erik is every hulking bully you ever encountered in middle school, and his parents are well-intentioned but incredibly guilt-stricken and desperate to prove that they’re all One Big Happy Family. Through all the drama, Paul is the perfect narrator. You feel his frustration with everything – the shallow better-than-thou nature of his town, the ignorance of his former friends, and his parents’ own willful blindness towards his increasingly dangerous brother. There’s so much foreshadowing I’m surprised I could see the last fifty pages through the weight of it, but the story is so well-written that even though you know who the bad guys are, you’ll still be impressed at how it ends.

Sort of weird and incredibly thought-provoking, Tangerine is both entertaining and engrossing. By the time it barrels through to the final conclusion, you will be standing on your feet cheering (or booing, depending on what character you’re reading about at that moment). The book delivers in every sense of the word, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Quotes of Note:

I’m in my room now, at the computer, listening to the sound of Erik kicking a football into a net in the backyard. It’s a short, violent sound, like some big guys holding up some little guy and punching him over and over in the stomach. Poomph. Poomph. Poomph. (p. 38)

The fire in the old grove was blazing high and wild, scorching the leaves off anything near it. By midnight we had chopped down four lightning trees. The ice was forming too rapidly in the new grove; the coatings on the trees were too thick. The loud cracking sound of trees splitting off branches like amputated limbs, or splitting in two like they’d been pole-axed, hung horribly in the frozen night air. We were losing. (p. 218)

There’s no big mystery here…Their lives are not made up of bits and pieces of versions of the truth. They don’t live that way. They know what really happened. Period. Why would that seem so mysterious to me? (p. 241)

Tasty Rating: !!!!!

If you thought this was delicious, try:
Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen
For those of you who liked watching the ospreys fight back against the town of Tangerine, you’ll love Hoot. Trust me, you’ll be rooting for the owls to win.

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