What’s Up With the Ending?
The last journal entry in Tangerine is one page long. In it, Paul describes his first morning drive to his new school, St. Anthony's.
Almost everything about this trip is symbolic. As Paul and his dad step outside, the smoke from the muck fire is actually blowing away from them for once, so we know that things are finally going Paul's way. The sun is rising above some mountainous-looking clouds, just like hope and calm conquering the stormy, intimidating turmoil of the past semester.
As they leave Lake Windsor, they pass the tree that has been planted for Mike Costello. Paul notices that it looks strong and healthy enough, but it's still supported by stakes. His dad explains that these are "just temporary. Until it can stand on its own" (3.16.5). You know, just like Paul, who needs just a little more support to stand on his own.
And they head east, towards the sun, as the sky glows around them. The citrus trees remind Paul of Luis, and he rolls down the car window to drink in the scent—"the scent of a golden dawn" (3.16.7).
That's exactly the way Luis described the smell of the citrus groves that he dedicated his life to, the smell that he and Paul both loved. Now Paul carries that piece of Luis within himself, and is headed for a much better future, full of hope and promise, and, of course, tangerines.