At the beginning of the story, the brothers Erik Fisher and Paul Fisher move houses, with their parents, from Houston, Texas to Lake Windsor Downs in rural Tangerine, Florida. Erik, the older son, looks forward to a football scholarship at the university of his choice. Paul, the younger son, is visually impaired and considered legally blind, but plays soccer. His family credits his visual injury to a solar eclipse, which he does not remember. Soon after they unpack, Paul goes for a tour of his new school, where characters Mike Costello and his brother Joey are introduced. One day at football practice, Mike Costello is killed by lightning; whereupon Erik and his friend Arthur Bauer tell jokes after hearing the news, even though Mike was one of their teammates. On his first day of school, Paul meets Coach Walski, the coach of the soccer team, and tries out for the team, but is later told that his visual impairment prevents his eligibility, and blames this on his mother's revelation of the impairment to the school administrators.
While Paul is at school, a field of portable classrooms collapses into a sinkhole. Many people, including Paul and Joey, try to rescue those trapped, and no one is seriously injured. The emergency relocation plan gives the students the choice to stay at Lake Windsor, their present school, with a different schedule and more crowded classes, or to transfer to Tangerine Middle School, on the other, poorer side of the county; and Paul chooses Tangerine Middle, to play soccer again. When he arrives at Tangerine Middle School, he is shown around by a girl named Theresa. At lunch, Paul ask Theresa about the soccer team. Theresa tells Paul that her brother, Tino, is a member. She brings Paul to a soccer meet after school and he joins. At first, Paul's teammates Victor, the team captain, and Tino hesitate to befriend him; but a victory in the first game of the season (against the aggressive Palmetto Whipoorwils) convinces Victor to do so. Paul then persuades Joey Costello to join the school. After a quarrel with Paul, Joey returns to Lake Windsor. Throughout the story, houses in Paul's neighborhood are fumigated for termites and palmetto bugs, and many of the houses are robbed by Erik and his friend Arthur. A man named Luis is introduced as the brother of Theresa and Tino. Luis works at his parents' citrus farm and is developing a new kind of tangerine called the Golden Dawn. While at Paul's house for a school project, Tino makes a comment about how Erik fell down while attempting to a kick an extra point during an earlier football game; and Erik slaps Tino. Luis goes to Erik's football practice to confront him with this; but Erik distracts him while signalling his friend Arthur to strike Luis from behind using a club, which is referred to as a "blackjack" for the rest of the story. This is witnessed by Paul, and Luis is found dead six days later from an aneurysm. Arthur had hit Luis hard enough to cause the aneurysm to weaken, and eventually burst 6 days later. Paul is told by Theresa not to go to the funeral because he is Erik's brother, and he grieves alone.
On the Senior Awards Night, Tino and Victor attack Erik and Arthur as revenge for killing Luis. The football coach restrains Tino, but Paul distracts him long enough for Tino and Victor to escape. Paul runs back to his house, where he newly remembers that Erik, in the belief that Paul exposed him and his friend Vincent Castor for spray painting a wall in their old neighborhood, held Paul's eyelids open while Vincent sprayed paint into Paul's eyes, and confronts his parents for concealment of the story. Arthur is arrested for murdering Luis and Erik expected to be arrested later but is placed on house arrest until further notice. Paul is expelled from the Tangerine school district for jumping on the coach, and transferred to St. Anthony's, a private Catholic school; but will still play for the Tangerine War Eagles Soccer Team.