To date this school year, our Love Your Neighbor Book Club has read Save Me a Seat and A Long Walk to Water, both of which raised good questions about loving our neighbors near and far who are different from us. Tangerine adds a new element: loving our siblings and family members and our competitors on the sports field (as well as loving those who look different from us on the outside).
Tangerine is one of my all-time favorite books to read with middle school kids. I’ve read it multiple times, and I never get tired of it. And guess what? Middle school kids don’t get tired of it, either.
Tangerine is a sports book that packs a punch: top notch vocabulary, as many similes as a tangerine grove has tangerines, rich thematic questions, strong characters, and a plot that grabs the reader from the first page. Discussion questions practically leap off the page, so let’s dive right in!
Tangerine Discussion Questions
QUESTION #1: MAN V. NATURE (STEWARDSHIP)
Can you describe what went on with the goldfish (“koi”)? What other environmental issues were happening as a result of “developing” the land? [hint: muck fires, lightning strikes in populated areas, mosquitoes, sinkholes, …]. Have the developers really developed the land? How does Luis treat the land? What point do you think the author is making about our right use of the natural world? Is that in agreement with what the Bible says? [hint: look at God’s command to Adam and Eve in the garden, consider the many references to gardens and farms in Scripture, and consider the issue of stewardship. Human growth and flourishing are also important in Scripture! Tidy answers to this question don’t really exist….]
Well… they develop it. They plan communities with nice houses, and schools, and industrial parks. They create jobs–construction jobs, teaching jobs, civil engineering jobs–like your father’s. ~p. 8 (Paul’s mom speaking)
QUESTION #2: PERCEPTION V. REALITY
Compare Paul in Tangerine with Paul in the Bible: both are visually impaired, and yet both can see realities those around them are ignorant of. How does Paul’s vision affect his life? What caused his visual difficulties? Paul is called “Fisher Man”–is he like a fish or an osprey (he says, on p. 164, that they are all “becoming big fish in this little pond”). How can we be better at really seeing the people around us? We will be better at loving our neighbors if we take the time to really see them! See p. 268 as well as the following two quotations:
Now Dad and I were standing next to the coach–not that either of them was aware of me. I was watching a huge bird of prey circling overhead, like a hawk. But it wasn’t a hawk. I knew that. It was an osprey. (I know the difference because of a science project I did last year. Could a vision-impaired person know the difference?) ~Paul speaking, p. 27
And she did. That was when I got my new glasses. That was when I started to see better. From that day on, I could see things that they could not. I could see Erik posing in front of them, in the shining light of the Football Dream. And I could see Erik lurking behind me, in the shadows of the clock. ~Paul speaking, p. 163
QUESTION #3: INNER V OUTER “GOODNESS” (a continuation of #2)
In the Bible, Jesus castigates the Pharisees for being white-washed sepulchers: they look good on the outside, but are filthy on the inside. How are the people of Lake Windsor Downs like the Pharisees? To whom in the Bible would you compare Luis and his friends/family? How does Philippians 2 relate to the attitudes of these two groups of people? Who is doing a better job of loving their neighbors?
They were all sincerely amazed at this stretch of road, this stretch I took for granted. It was like a movie–like a movie set, anyway–painted on plywood and propped up by two-by-fours. As phony as an Erik Fisher football hero smile. ~Paul speaking, p. 183
There’s no big mystery here. The truth about Luis is obvious to all of the people around him. Their lives are not made up of bits and pieces of versions of the truth. They don’t live that way. They know what really happened. Period. Why would that seem to mysterious to me? ~Paul speaking, p. 241
QUESTION #4: THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE
How do we see this (“the truth shall set you free”) played out in the novel? Consider:
But I heard that word “brother” echoing long afterward. I looked up at the ceiling, and I heard Erik pacing bak and forth, back and forth, in the cage he had made for himself. ~Paul, p. 292
QUESTION #5: YOUR CHOICE
There are lots of other elements to this book you could discuss if you want! Literary elements to discuss/note include symbolism, similes, vocabulary, and more. Bullying is a hot topic these days, and this book provides some great examples of bullies along with what to do. Racism is hard to ignore in this book, too.