by Edward Bloor
Young Adult Literature; Family Drama; Coming-of-Age; Southern Gothic
Young Adult Literature
Let's start with the obvious. Tangerine is a book about a seventh grader, written for an audience of middle schoolers. But it's also Young Adult Lit because it addresses issues that are super important to young adults— like bullying, discrimination, family relationships, friendship, and being truthful. Do you have thoughts and feelings about these issues?
Yeah, we thought so.
If this book isn't one of the most dramatic of family dramas out there, then we don't know what is. Tangerine is all about the interplay between Paul's family members. Paul's mom and dad worship the ground Erik walks on and so little attention to Paul that Erik can violently disable Paul for life, on purpose, and not be punished for it. And the infuriating part is that his parents don't seem to realize that they're favoring Erik.
But even though the Fisher family's behavior is extreme, it's still believable. It's still relatable. We can still understand how Paul feels, and maybe even pick up a few pointers on how to be a decent brother (or sister) along the way. Like, talk with your siblings, and stick by family members when they need you.
Oh yeah, and how about not killing your little brother's friends? That'd be a good one, too.
Coming Of Age
And we don't mean Paul finally being old enough to get his driver's license.
By the end of the book, Paul is a much different kid than he was in the beginning. He starts out afraid—afraid of moving (remember the zombies?), afraid of Erik, afraid of his own past. But his heroic actions at school when the sinkhole opens up make him braver. And his victories and experiences with the War Eagles, including fighting the freeze, help him to feel tougher, too. Finally, Luis's tragic death makes him able to stand up to Erik for the first time ever, and unlocks the dark memory that he has been repressing since kindergarten.
Even though it's only been a few months, he's grown up a lot. As he heads off to his new school, Paul is happier, much more confident, and stronger.
You're thinking Southern belles gone Goth, right? Wearing black petticoated dresses and lacy black parasols, like some gothic lolitas?
Sorry. Southern gothic lit features freaky, even supernatural-seeming events…like, say, a giant sinkhole opening up under a school? Or a lightning-afflicted town, where muck fires burn and kids are killed from all the electrical storms? Or, hmm, maybe giant avenging swarms of killer mosquitoes and ravenous termites? Yeah, like those things.
A major element of the Southern Gothic is dealing with social and racial issues in the American South. Do we have that in Tangerine? Check.
Remember Joey's racist outburst at Tangerine Middle School? The whole book revolves around Lake Windsor vs. Tangerine: the haves vs. the have-nots; those who live in brand new houses in fancy new developments vs. those who live in old homes and work their citrus groves; and, of course, whites vs. Hispanics.
Of course, by the end of the book, we have a pretty good idea which community is really "poor."