A former high school English teacher, Edward Bloor has managed to find time while working as a book editor at a major publishing house and helping to raise his two children to pen four well-received novels for teen readers: Crusader, Story Time, London Calling, and the award-winning debut novel Tangerine. As Bloor once commented: “My teaching job led to a job in educational publishing, where I was actually required to sit and read young adult novels all day long. So I decided to try it myself.”
Born in 1950, Bloor was raised in Trenton, New Jersey, and recalled that, during his childhood, soccer reigned supreme. “Different ethnic communities–Poles, Italians, Germans, Ukrainians–all had their kids’ soccer clubs. Parents of the children on these teams raged and howled at the games as if their national pride was at stake. I was one of those little kids trying desperately to kick a soccer ball amidst the multilingual howling. I continued my soccer playing through high school, on a really good team, and into college, on a really bad team.” Bloor’s memories of the game eventually found their way into his fiction.
In the meantime, Bloor graduated from college, then worked for three years as a teacher. He began his career in children’s publishing in 1986, and came up with the idea for his first novel while commuting to work on Florida’s back roads west of Orlando. As he once recalled: “To my dismay, I watched the daily destruction of the citrus groves along this route. This is how it happens: The citrus trees are uprooted and bulldozed into piles; the piles are set on fire; the charred remains of the trees are buried, and tons of white sand are dumped over their graves. After that, a completely different place is created, a place as fictional as any novel. A developer erects a wall, thinks of a theme, and gives the place a name. Then the place fills up with large houses and with people whose only common bond is that they qualified for the same amount of mortgage money.” Upset by the changing landscape, Bloor asked himself: “Who are the people who used to make a go of it here? Who are the people now making their exit while we’re making our entrance? And how do they feel about all this?”
Bloor addresses such questions in his debut novel, 1997’s Tangerine. Set in the tangerine-growing region of Florida, the novel touches on environmental and social issues while exploring the trials of its legally blind, soccer-playing protagonist, Paul Fisher. As Bloor once explained: “Paul lives in constant fear of his evil older brother, Erik. Paul also struggles mightily to lead a normal life and to see things as they really are despite the thick-framed glasses that cover his injured eyes. Playing goalie in soccer is at the core of Paul’s life, and he gets to do it on two teams, one of which is a mixture of boys and girls. It is the clash of these two teams, these two schools, and these two worlds that brings about the climactic scenes of the novel.” Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books reviewer Deborah Stevenson praised Tangerine as “a richly imagined read about an underdog coming into his own,” while a Kirkus Reviews critic cited “a series of gripping climaxes and revelations” as among the book’s strengths. Noting that well-rounded characterization and a humorous edge add to the appeal of the book, Booklist reviewer Kathleen Squires asserted that “this dark, debut novel proves that Bloor is a writer to watch.”
Bloor also draws readers to southern Florida in his second novel, Crusader. Here he focuses on fifteen-year-old Roberta, who works in her uncle’s virtual-reality arcade in a seedy suburban strip mall. Roberta has felt helpless since her mother’s murder seven years ago, and the strangeness of her home life and the virulent atmosphere at the arcade make her loneliness and adolescent growing pains even more painful. When a brutal new racist video game called Crusader taps into the ethnic hatreds of the arcade’s clientele and brings in an even more violent clientele, Roberta begins to see how distorted her world is. She breaks from her family’s traditions, and begins to take action to track down her mother’s murderer, in addition to furthering her own career as a journalist.
While some reviewers noted that the novel’s multiple plot lines sometimes tangle, Frances Bradburn wrote in Booklist that Bloor’s message–that life holds “no easy answers”–makes Crusader “a stretch book in the truest sense.” Praising the novel as “ambitious,” a Publishers Weekly reviewer added that the book’s “characters are sharply drawn” and that Bloor’s story line is “deeper, denser, and more complex than most YA fare.” Echoing the praise of these reviewers, a Horn Book contributor noted that the novel’s “situations and characters are both intriguing and unsettling,” and that Bloor successfully supplies readers with “palpable atmosphere and a fascinating range of undeniable human characters.”
Published in 2004, Story Time draws on Bloor’s quirky sense of humor as well as his short tenure as a public school teacher. In this darkly comic, quasi-ghost story, eighth-grader Kate Melvil and her very bright, slightly younger uncle George are unexpectedly transferred into the Whittaker Magnet School, where they expect to be challenged by advanced classwork in the county’s “Leave No High-Scoring Child Behind” program. Instead, they spend much of the time in the school’s basement, where they are barraged with an endless stream of practice tests, horrid health-food concoctions and exercise designed to keep them in top testing shape, administrative mumbo jumbo from a controlling principal who plays favorites, and a malevolent presence emanating from a collection of old books in the school’s upper regions. Large vocabulary words are memorized, but their meanings are never understood; the principal’s quest is for higher test scores, not education. As Bloor noted in an interview posted on the Harcourt Books Web site, the message behind Story Time is that “standarized testing is not really about [students]… at all. It is about real estate and politics and money, but not about them. Therefore, they should not let such tests upset them. They should concentrate on discovering and developing their God-given talents.”
Story Time was praised by several reviewers, Kliatt critic Paula Rohrlick describing the novel as “a funny, offbeat, often Gothic tale.” While, as a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted, adult readers “will relish this wild satire on modern education,” Bloor’s novel addresses readers on more than one level; the engaging characters, bizarre plot twists, and haunted library setting balance what a Publishers Weekly contributor dubbed as “a no-holds-barred, deeply subversive tale about modern education.” While Mary R. Hofmann wrote in her School Library Journal review that Story Time is “overly ambitious” in its attempt to combine “social satire, black comedy, fantasy/humor, and extreme situations,” she added that Bloor nonetheless creates an “expansive and engrossing tale” on the order of works by writers Roald Dahl and Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie.
In 2005’s London Calling Bloor “continues to demonstrate his range, this time mixing historical fiction with time travel in a poignant adventure story about fathers and sons,” observed a critic for Publishers Weekly. The novel’s main character, Martin Conway, is an unhappy eighth-grade student at the exclusive New Jersey-based All Souls Preparatory School, where he is constantly reminded that he doesn’t fit in because he is there on scholarship. Shortly after inheriting an old radio from his recently deceased grandmother, he starts having what seem to be vivid dreams set in 1940s London, where he meets a boy named Jimmy. When Martin learns that details of his recent dreams turn out to be historically accurate, he comes to the realization that he isn’t dreaming, but traveling through time. “Readers will identify with the modern elements of the story and be drawn into the tension of the historical events,” remarked School Library Journal’s Cheri Dobbs of the novel. “Readers who enjoy historical fiction with a twist will be intrigued by London Calling–as will anyone who likes books that challenge the status quo, especially through unexpected and unusual elements,” stated a reviewer for Teenreads.com.
Source: Contemporary Authors Online, Thomson Gale, 2008.