Tangerine, Florida—once known for its citrus groves—is now an uninhabitable quagmire of muck fires and school-swallowing sinkholes. Still, twelve-year-old Paul sees the move as a way to start anew, maybe even make a name for himself in middle school soccer—despite his father’s obsession with his high-school-age brother Erik’s future in football. Paul is visually impaired (without his Coke bottle glasses), but it’s everyone else who seems to be blind to Erik’s dangerous nature.
Part sports novel, part coming of age tale, part mystery, Paul is the central focus of a highly complicated life. His family has moved the whole way to Florida and after a disaster at his first school, he's shuffled off to a less desirable one which actually benefits him as he can play soccer without being denied from the team because of his vision problems.The greater thing that haunts him is the fact that he can't figure out exactly what happened to his vision. His parents have always told him it was because he stared into the Sun, but the more Paul thinks about it, the more he doesn't buy the explanation. Something sinister is also going on in his neighborhood. Everything seems to be going wrong with the houses and break ins begin. Paul is also dealing with the fact that his father is completely enmeshed in oldest son Erik's possibilities as a football player. Everything the family does is devoted to getting Erik into the best college for football. The problem is Paul's parents seem oblivious to the fact that Erik isn't a nice person. He's entitled, cruel, and a bully to Paul. He harasses Paul's friends in truly hateful ways and isn't against using violence to get what he wants. Paul is terrified of his brother, but his parents either feel like he's overreacting or lying.
Paul is a sympathetic kid. He finds that he fits in with the rougher crowd at Tangerine Middle better than the more high class school he started at and his terror of his brother is justified. Paul has to figure out how to stand up for himself and the truth when he witnesses something truly horrible happen. He's wants to tell the truth, but it's hard when his parents have even been living with a lie for a long time. The book gets marked down simply on the obliviousness of his parents. I understand that some parents do live in denial about their children, but when it becomes clear that his parents know at least some of what Erik is responsible for and the violence that he's capable of you have to wonder whether it moves from parents in denial to being a plot device. There's never an indication that Erik has any redeeming features. There's never an indication that Erik even has the slightest sense of brotherly love towards Paul. He's a monster, pure and simple. The fact that he hadn't gotten in trouble up to that point is rather unbelievable. Aside from that the book has everything a reader could want from the excitement of sports to a real message about standing up for the truth.