Kyle Mango is your average teen, hovering just outside the fringes of the popular crowd. He’s not a big success with girls, and satisfied well enough with his suburban Texas life. High school ends, and Kyle enrolls at Texas Tech, where he immediately joins a fraternity and quickly senses it is not the lifestyle for him. Miserable and living in a house full of frat brothers, Kyle meets Gretchen, who crashes a frat party and steals his heart. With music blasting and all the fraternity/sorority types gyrating to “Thriller,” Gretchen helps Kyle gather up his belongings and escape.
A month of happy dating comes to a screeching halt when Gretchen gets involved with a radical animal rights group and leaves to clean oil off birds in Alaska. As Gretchen’s hatred of all things oil intensifies, Kyle inherits 800 acres of land and four oil wells from his Uncle Benny. Kyle knows the gap between them grows wider with every barrel his rigs draw from the Texas earth, but he can’t give up on the only girl who has ever captured his heart.
Life after college is a dream come true for Kyle and best friend Chang, with whom he shared a dorm room after the fraternity escapade. With Kyle’s oil wells and Chang’s head for business, Mango Enterprises is an instant success and keeps on getting better. But the deeper Kyle is immersed in the oil business, the more Gretchen delves into the life of a wildlife rescuer.
Unaware of Kyle’s vocation, Gretchen invites him to Alaska where she is part of a group cleaning oil off seagulls in the wake of a tanker spill. By the second day, Gretchen’s radical friend Regina has googled Kyle and learned his true identity. She threatens to tell Gretchen if Kyle doesn’t follow her mandate to help the group for three more weeks. Kyle, however, chooses to tell Gretchen himself, then returns to Texas as they both struggle with mixed emotions.
The oil business continues to thrive, and the friends add an unlikely third partner to Mango Enterprises: Sal the bookie, who had been partially responsible for deceased Uncle Benny’s financial demise. But Sal is a new man, repented of his sins, done with the bookie business and ready to earn his money honestly.
With the continued success of the business and more oil discoveries, Kyle’s income provides generous amounts of money for his mother and siblings, as well as his two employees. All is well…except his longing for Gretchen. She invites him to France at the same time Sal and Chang go on an African mission trip to dig and install water wells for an impoverished village. Kyle ascertains that Radical Regina has gone over the top. He leaves France early after his method of freeing some French finches contradicts with Regina’s philosophies. Gretchen has had enough of Regina by this time and meets Kyle at the airport. The two join Sal and Chang in Africa, where they discover the wonder of helping others and feel God working in both their lives. This life-changing trip triggers a series of events that wrap the whole story up in a neat little package.
LAST MANGO IN TEXAS is a fun, light read. There is nothing spectacular about the dialogue, characters or imagery, and the characters are young enough that it would almost fit better in the young adult genre. The story is simple and often predictable, but entertaining enough to bring on a plane or read in a waiting room.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on November 13, 2011