My master’s research project was on using young adult literature in the classroom to raise students’ awareness of social issues. Had I been familiar with Edward Bloor’s Tangerine at the time, I would have incorporated it into the list of books I was using; even if there was nothing else positive to say about the book, it would be impossible to deny Bloor’s use of social issues throughout the novel. Classism, disabilities, environmental awareness, violence — all have a place in this story.

Fortunately, that isn’t the only positive thing to say about Bloor’s young adult novel. Bloor writes in the voice of Paul Fisher, our seventh grade protagonist. Paul’s family is moving from Houston, TX, to Tangerine County, FL, where his father has taken a new job as one of the county’s civil engineers. But his dad isn’t only preoccupied with his new job; he also focuses a large proportion of his time and energy on Paul’s older brother Erik and on what Paul calls the “Erik Fisher Football Dream.” Erik is our antagonist, and though we know this early on, we’re not necessarily sure why — because Paul isn’t either. He knows he is afraid of his brother, but he can’t pinpoint the reason. As readers, we can tell Erik is not a nice guy, but it is only as Paul begins to piece past experiences together throughout the book that we understand his fear.

Paul’s sport is soccer. In spite of being legally blind, he is determined to be the starting goalie for the team at his new junior high, Lake Windsor Middle School. His thick glasses and his keen awareness make his poor eyesight irrelevant, until he is told he cannot play on the team because of his IEP (Individualized Education Plan, a tool schools create for students with disabilities to properly document and accommodate their needs — and personally, this sounds like unlawful prejudice to me, but admittedly, I’m no expert on laws concerning students with disabilities, and it is a key plot point).

This event, coupled with a series of mishaps so drastic they could have been taken out of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events leads Paul to enroll in nearby Tangerine Middle School — without an IEP. Paul descibes Tangerine Middle as “rougher.” Instead of being attended by kids from the affluent housing additions, it’s hallways are filled with kids whose parents work in the local industry: planting, picking, and packing citrus.

This is where Bloor finds his stride. The early chapters of the books are too busy setting the scene and establishing the (somewhat unbelievable) chain of events that bring Paul to this point. But Tangerine Middle introduces Paul — and us — to a number of compelling characters and gives Paul a new perspective on life in Florida, and on himself. And Bloor uses this change in perspective to strengthen Paul as a character, and to provide him with the means of better understanding his relationship with his brother.

In Tangerine, Bloor has created a novel that is part sports, part mystery, part eco-awareness — but entirely engaging and thought-provoking. Though I think there are many YA novels that transcend age, this really isn’t one of them. I wouldn’t recommend it to adults who aren’t fans of YA lit in general. But if you’re looking for a book that would be great for 11-15 year olds (especially boys), particularly one that will present opportunities to think and discuss social issues, Tangerine would be a great choice.

~ by Molly on May 1, 2009.

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