Friday, January 11, 2013

Mister Orange by Truus Matti, translated by Laura Watkinson

It's 1943 and Linus' oldest brother, Albert, is going to war. Everything is new and hopeful, from the new shoes handed down to Albie's younger brothers to Linus' new job as delivery boy. He has Albie's superhero, Mister Superspeed, his best friend Liam, and unbounded confidence. When he meets a new customer, Mister Orange, who has a whole new way of looking at art and the world, he's on top of the world.

But the realities of war intrude and Linus realizes that being grown-up isn't as easy or simple as he thought. What difference does Mister Orange's art or Albie's imagination in his superhero drawings make? Could they have made things worse? With some help from Mister Orange, Linus regains his hope for the future, although he's lost his naivety and childhood innocence.

This is different from any other historical fiction title about World War II that I've read. It focuses on both the art and vision of Mr. Orange (Piet Mondrian) and the inner imaginative life of Linus as he grows up. Linus' interactions with his family, Mondrian, and friends are interspersed with dreams and daydreams about Mister Superspeed. It's very introspective, focusing on how Mondrian thinks his art envisions the future and how Linus interacts with that art and it becomes part of his new maturity. End notes about Mondrian and his life and work are included.

Verdict: This isn't going to be of interest to most middle grade readers. It presupposed a certain amount of contextual knowledge of life in New York during World War II and the story moves at a slow, steady pace. Most kids are going to want stories with more action and less inner thought. However, for the thoughtful child and those who like historical fiction, this would be a good choice. It's not something I'd add to my small library, but would definitely be a good purchase for a larger library with more space and variety.

ISBN: 9781592701230; Published January 2013 by Enchanted Lion; Galley provided by publisher for review; Added to summer reading prizes.

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