Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mister Orange (2014 Batchelder Winner)...




Mister Orange
    Originally written and published in Dutch in 2011, Mister Orange was chosen as the 2014 Batchelder Winner, having been translated by Larura Watkinson into English. I found it interesting that a story about a boy in New York City during World War II was written by a Dutchwoman in the Netherlands.

     Mister Orange is about a twelve-year-old boy and his life in New York City during World War II. Linus has just inherited his older brother's shoes, his grocery delivery job, his room, and his treasured comic book collection. The cause of all this is that his older brother Albie has just enlisted in the U.S. Army and is leaving the next day for basic training and war. Linus is excited and proud of Albie, but he can't understand why his mother is so upset and his father looks so worried. As the story moves on Linus learns the ins and outs of his grocery route and how to keep his customers happy. Unfortunately, Linus has to learn that real war isn't like the battles in Albie's comic books, and that people are dying to protect what they believe in. One of Linus delivery customers, nicknamed "Mr. Orange" due to his bi-monthly order of oranges and difficult last name, helps Linus understand that we have to fight for what we believe in or there won't be a reason to live. Unfortunately "Mister Orange" passes away at the end of the story, and it takes another 2 years for Linus to see a poster for the opening of an art exhibit to realize that he is the famous painter Piet Mondrian. The war has changed life for everyone, but Linus realizes that you have to have the imagination to move forward.
     The first thing that caught my eye about Mister Orange was the cover. The American Cover (which is different than the Dutch cover) features art work by Jenni Desmond that is reminiscent of Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). As a painter he was "...always searching for new ways to paint. Instead of painting in a familiar or traditional style, he wanted to make paintings that looked completely new and unlike anything else. Shape, color, rhythm: he wanted to balance all of these elements and to keep his work interesting. His art had to have Life! He wanted people to have a strong reaction when they looked at his paintings, the way people often do when they see a movie or listen to music." (pg. 154) He loved the exhilarating feel of New York and considered it a city of the future. Mondrian also loved the rhythm and action in a new form of music; boogie-woogie. His last piece which was unfinished at his death is the painting that impresses Linus in the story. It is called "Broadway Boogie Woogie" and you can see how Jenni Desmond used his style to capture the feeling of the book. Piet Mondrian is "Mister Orange" in the story and he uses his understanding of life to help Linus deal with the stress and horrors of the world.  
Broadway Boogie-Woogie

                                         Broadway Boogie-Woogie, 1942-43--Piet Mondrian

     It is "Mister Orange" that helps Linus understand why Albie and other young men were marching off to war.When Linus asks "What does the future matter, as long as we're still in the middle of the war?" (pg.123) "Mister Orange" replies, Winning the war is the same thing as fighting for the future...A future where people have their freedom and are allowed to say what they believe and to have an opinion of their own.....Whenever people have their freedom taken away, they always fight back. Sooner or later....V for Victory". I know it was a different time, but I thought that it was sad that the only person that took the time to really talk to Linus was a man that for the most part was a strange. All the other adults in the story were just focused on getting to the next day. It was even "Mister Orange's" words "Have you very much hurt yourself?" that made Linus realize that he needed to mend his friendship with his friend Liam, and that it was worth saving.  He became a mentor to Linus when he needed someone the most.

     I thought it was interesting how, at the beginning of the story, Linus has a very simplistic view of the war. He imagines it to be just like Albie's comic books. The good guy always saves the day and the bad guy always loses. Linus believes that Mister Superspeed will be able to protect Albie and save the world. He has numerous internal conversations with Mister Superspeed about different imaginary war battles.  However as the book moves along and Linus reads Albie's letter learns the truth about the war, he finds that Mister Superspeed isn't able to save everyone. With a more mature understanding of what we were fighting for Linus no longer needs Mister Superspeed. He has come to terms with the harshness of war and now he has the "Mister Orange's" future of light and rythm to look forward too.

     I enjoyed reading Mister Orange, and I thought it was very creative how Truus Maffi used a famous artist as character in a fiction story. Especially since Piet Mondrian and his work focus on the future and many people at that point in history feared that there would be no future. I also found the notes on Mondrian at the back of the book informative. Next time I am in Washington, D.C. I will be dropping by the National Gallery to see some of his work.  

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