Take a wild guess how many chapters Tangerine has. How many would you say—20? 30? Nope. There are 56! 56 chapters in a 300-page book.
Even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows only has 37 chapters, and it's 759 pages long. Got a calculator handy? This means each chapter in Tangerine is, on average, 5-6 pages long. Of course, some are longer, and believe it or not, some are shorter, but we're talking averages here.
The reason it's divided up this way is that it's supposed to be Paul's journal. Each chapter is simply titled with the date of the entry. But five or six pages is really only enough space to tackle one or two events.
Breaking the action of the story up into bite-sized pieces makes it feel very episodic. It's like watching a 30-minute TV show, where each episode moves the characters a little further along in the big, overarching storyline of the series—but at the end of the half-hour, whatever problems cropped up at the beginning of the episode have been resolved, and things are at a pretty good stopping point. That's the way it is with Paul's journal entries.
Want an example? Check out the entry for Friday, September 22.
It begins with: "We played our first soccer game today, an away game against Palmetto Middle School" (2.4.1). The next seven pages describe what happens in that game. Then, the game ends, and Victor lets Paul know that he's part of the team now, for real. Now we get Paul's reaction: "Victor returned to the back of the bus, leaving me sitting in a kind of daze. Did I hear him? Oh yeah, I heard him all right. I heard his words clearer than any words I had ever heard before. And I do believe I know what he's saying" (2.4.55).
End scene. See you next week, same time, same station.
Here's the thing—Paul is a seventh-grader. A seventh-grader! Who keeps a journal. Okay, this much we can believe. But would a normal seventh-grader really put something like this in his journal?
To the east, the sun was rising behind a long row of gray clouds. I stopped to look at them, jagged and red peaked, looming there like a distant mountain range. (3.16.3)
Well, maybe, if he was named David Foster Wallace. But don't most of us just pour out our feelings into a journal, without too much regard for pesky grammar, let alone adding fancy figures of speech and poetic descriptions? Who cares if it's well-written?
Well, apparently Paul does. On his very first night in his new house, he writes for hours after dinner: "I turned on the computer, got into my private journal, and wrote until about eleven o'clock" (1.1.55). This journal is like his best friend; it's the only place where he can tell the truth and be himself. And if the kid wants to make it all poetic, then we say, more power to him!
No worries about getting bored: Tangerine is full of action. It's got dramatic sports scenes, both soccer and football. It's got lively dialogue, and weird weather. It's got last-minute rescues from sinkholes, and frantic nights spent trying to save citrus groves. And, of course, it's got violent fights and bullying scenes.
All this takes place in a really immediate and lively writing style. We feel like we're right there in the game with Paul, or watching horrified as Erik claims another victim. Even something as simple as Paul's being awoken by a storm is full of action and excitement:
I woke up in the dark to the sound of an explosion. I groped around for my regular glasses—unable to find them in this new bedroom, upstairs in this new house. Then my glasses suddenly appeared on the nightstand, illuminated by a flash of lightning. (1.2.1)
Talk about dramatic. So what does that say about Paul, the one who's supposedly writing all this in his journal?