Paul is the protagonist and narrator of Tangerine. He’s a close observer of all the people around him, particularly his brother, Erik. While everyone else sees Erik as the star football player, Paul knows that there’s more to him. Paul narrates the novel through journal entries. Every day he tells the events going on around him and reveals important details about the people of Lake Windsor and Tangerine. Paul has bad vision and is forced to wear thick prescription goggles. When he moves to Tangerine County he thinks of himself as a nerd, because that’s how he was always treated. But in both Lake Windsor and Tangerine Middle School he becomes popular when he proves his skills on the soccer field. He is surprised when kids start to like him. Nothing boosts his confidence more than playing with the Lake Windsor Middle School team, the War Eagles. The War Eagles are wild and strong and full of pride. They win every game and Paul is proud and empowered by being a part of them. This growing self-confidence helps Paul learn to defend the kids of Tangerine Middle, as well as to stand up to Erik. By the end of the book he takes the bold step of telling the truth about Erik to everyone. In this way, he liberates himself from Erik’s hold on him, as well as from the oppressive culture of Lake Windsor Downs.
Erik is Paul’s mysteriously sinister older brother. We know from Paul that Erik has a dark side, but for much of the novel we don’t know why. Erik is the star of the football team and everyone gravitates towards him. He gets a lot of praise and attention from Paul’s parents. He’s planning to get a scholarship to a good college. He makes friends based on his popularity. He has a sidekick, Arthur, who drives him everywhere (one strange thing about him is that he doesn’t drive). It also doesn’t seem as though he’s as good of a football player as everyone makes him out to be. Little by little we get to see Erik’s dark side. He seems sociopathic after he laughs about the death of Mike Costello. Then he hits Paul’s friend, Tino, over the head. He tells Arthur to hit Luis with a blackjack ultimately dies from an aneurism. Then we find out that he and Arthur have been stealing from the neighbors. Then the murder story is revealed; his football season is forfeited and Erik falls from grace.
Mrs. Fisher is Paul and Erik’s mom. She takes care of her whole family and often brings Paul around on her errands with her. She’s close with Paul and Paul is aware of her anxieties and concerns. She’s mostly a housewife, but when the family moves into the Lake Windsor Downs housing development she becomes the head of the housing association’s architectural committee—a job that she takes very seriously. She tries to hold everything together while things fall apart. She’s the one who discovers that Erik and Arthur robbed the neighbors.
Paul and Erik’s dad pays almost no attention to Paul, while obsessing about Erik’s football career. He’s Erik’s biggest supporter and all he can think about is Erik’s future. The Fisher family moved to Tangerine because of Mr. Fisher’s job. He’s the chief civil engineer for Tangerine County. After Erik’s downfall, Mr. Fisher distances himself from Erik. Paul sees his father as spineless and shallow.
Arthur is Erik’s sidekick who does his dirty work for him. Arthur lives in the Lake Windsor Downs housing development and is on Erik’s football team. He drives Erik wherever he wants to go. He beats people up for Erik and he robs the houses in the housing estate while Erik waits outside. Arthur gets arrested for the murder of Luis at the end of the novel.
Victor is the captain of the War Eagles and an outspoken leader at Tangerine Middle School. He hassles Paul when Paul arrives at Tangerine Middle. But when Paul teases back, Victor likes it; and when Paul proves himself on the soccer team, Victor tells Paul that he has his back. Victor avenges Luis by going to Lake Windsor High with Tino and beating up Erik and Arthur.
Tino is on the War Eagles. He’s suspicious of Paul when Paul arrives on the team. His family own a tangerine grove. His older brother is Luis and his sister is Theresa. Paul visits the grove to learn about growing tangerines for the kids’ science project. When Paul helps out on the farm, Tino comes to trust Paul. Then, when Erik attacks Luis, Tino loses his trust in Paul. Yet Paul ultimately wins Tino’s trust after he comes to Tino’s aid when Tino avenges Luis’s death.
Theresa is Tino and Luis’s sister. Theresa shows Paul around Tangerine Middle School when Paul arrives there. She introduces him to the War Eagles—specifically to Tino and Victor. She invites Paul to partner with her and Tino for their science project on their brother Luis’s tangerine. She mediates between Paul and the Tangerine kids. She’s warm with Paul, but she's also defensive of her family when Erik attacks them.
Luis is the older brother of Theresa and Tino. He’s quite a bit older than them and almost acts as a father figure to them. He manages their family’s tangerine groves. He is devoted to the groves and has been developing a new kind of tangerine that he calls the Golden Dawn. After Erik punches Tino, Luis comes to Erik’s school to avenge his young brother; but when he shows up, Arthur hits him over the head with a blackjack, causing an aneurism that kills Luis a week later. His death marks a pivotal point in the novel when Paul is forced to confront the lies and simmering violence in his family.
Antoine Thomas is the real star of the Lake Windsor Seagulls. But Antoine lives in Tangerine rather than Lake Windsor. Everyone on the football team is participating in keeping this secret. When it comes out that Antoine doesn’t have a Lake Windsor address, all the Seagulls games for the season are forfeited. Antoine is the one who tells Paul that he needs to tell the truth.
Betty is the soccer coach for the War Eagles. She’s a tough, good coach, and all the team members respect her. She’s involved in the lives of all the kids from Tangerine Middle School. She used to be an Olympic hurdler.
Joey is Paul’s first friend in the Tangerine area. Joey’s family lives in the Lake Windsor housing development. Joey’s brother Mike dies near the opening of the novel after being struck by lightning on the football field. Joey comes to join Paul at Tangerine Middle School after the sinkhole opens up at Lake Windsor Middle school. However, Joey has a bad attitude when he gets to Tangerine Middle. He doesn’t get along with any of the kids; then he bursts out with a racist tirade against them. He leaves Tangerine Middle, and Paul is fine with that.
Mike is the older brother of Joey. Paul likes Mike. Mike dies early on in the novel after being struck by lightning on the football field. After his death, Erik and Arthur laugh about the way his hair stood on end when he was struck.
Mr. Donnelly is one of the people who lives in the Lake Windsor housing development. His house has been struck by lightning seven times and he can no longer get insurance for it. He puts a lightning rod on his house, which bothers Paul’s mom. Mr. Donnelly also runs the Tangerine Times. Antoine Thomas goes to him to confess about living in Tangerine.
Coach Walski is the coach of the Lake Windsor Seagulls. He cares about the team’s success above anything else. This is revealed after the death of Mike Costello when he doesn’t want to change the time of practice even though the afternoons are the most dangerous time of day for lightning strikes. He also holds practice the day after Mike dies. He is complicit in cheating by having Antoine Thomas play on his team.
Tangerine Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Tangerine is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Besides smelling really bad, the thick blanket of smoke caused by the muck fire creates poor visibility. There is also the danger of cypress trees falling over because their roots burn, which is dangerous to the firefighters.