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It's weird—Paul Fisher is the main character in Tangerine, but he doesn't feel like the main character in his own life. His big brother Erik is the star of the family, and his parents spend most of their time fawning over him, and ignoring Paul. So a lot of this book is about Paul's search for his own identity, and a way for him to become the star in his own life.
Paul's got a major stumbling block on his way to figuring out who he is, though. Something traumatic happened to him in kindergarten, something that nearly blinded him, something that makes him have to wear super thick glasses, and even crazy strong prescription goggles for sports. But he can't remember what it was that happened. He has periodic flashbacks of related events, but no matter how hard he tries, he can't recall what hurt his eyes.
Up until this point in his life (his seventh grade year), he's always accepted the explanation that Erik had spread around at school—that Paul had looked directly at the sun during an eclipse like a big dummy. But now, he's starting to question that story. He just can't believe he would have been stupid enough to do that, and he hates the thought of being a cautionary tale to others: "I was the boy who had not listened and who was now paying the price. Look at me if you dare!" (1.6.10).
(Oh, and if you're starting to think that this book has a serious bug in its eye about vision, you'd be right. Check out "Symbols: "Paul's Glasses" for more on that.)
His parents have certainly never told him the truth about what happened. In fact, they don't take much of an interest in Paul, period. His mom is at least sort of concerned about his safety in general, but his dad makes no secret of the fact that it's all about Erik.
Still, Paul has turned out surprisingly well-adjusted. Sure, he's kind of a loner: "After about half an hour by myself, I caught up with the group again. No one had noticed that I was gone" (1.15.48). True, he only shares his true feelings in his journal—as he writes, "I had the words all picked out, but I couldn't say them. I sat there agonizing about it. Why couldn't I tell?" (3.2.1-2) And, yes, he doesn't really have any truly close friends. He explains about one of them, "Tino and I get along OK on the soccer team, as long as I know my place and stay in it" (2.16.19).
But he is friendly and likeable, and able to get along with just about anyone—superficially. The thing is, Paul doesn't have a real attachment to anyone in his life in the beginning of the book.
He feels distant from his parents, who show up, like, an hour early for every one of Erik's games, and come to all his practices—but don't show up at all for Joey's: "Why isn't my mother here?," he wonders. "Or my father? They could be watching this game. […] If we were playing football, they'd all be here" (2.7.4).
He's frightened by his brother (duh), and is only kind of friends with Joey Costello. When he transfers to Tangerine Middle School, he sort of makes friends with the other guys on the soccer team, but Erik manages to drive a wedge between him and Joey, and him and the soccer team, pretty quickly. The first person Paul ever really looks up to and feels a true connection with is Luis Cruz. Who is then murdered by Erik and Arthur.
But—and this is a big one—this time, Paul reacts differently than ever before. Before Luis's death, he'd pretty much accept whatever Erik dished out: he would watch motionless as his brother beat up his friends. He would keep quiet about Erik's cruel teasing. He would silently swallow the fact that Erik had done something else to mess up his life, and just get on with things.
We think he was actually really tough and resilient, to be able to put up with it all. But it made him feel weak and cowardly, since he kept quiet out of fear: "You don't see me standing up to them, do you? I just let them be idiots" (2.3.23).
And something about Erik hurting Luis, the first person he ever feels close to, flips a switch inside Paul. He isn't scared anymore, and he refuses to keep quiet any longer. This moment of accepting himself and his feelings helps him remember how his eyes were damaged. Eight years after his own brother almost blinded him, he finally finds the courage and strength to confront both him and his parents, and tell the world about Erik's crimes.
Now that Paul has reclaimed his own past, and reclaimed his own voice, he can move on with his life, a much happier and more confident person—the main character in his own life. So now it's your turn to continue the story—how do you think Paul will act at his new new school? Will he finally feel free to open up to friends? Will his relationship with his parents really be any better? Will he still tread carefully around Erik? And is there any danger of him turning into someone like Erik?