Mister Orange by Truus Matti

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Matti, Truus. Mister Orange. Enchanted Lion Books, 2012.  $16.95, 160 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.letterenfonds.nl/en/author/381/truus-matti

Links to Interviews with Translator:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: To deal with his brother’s departure for war, Linus makes friends with an imaginary superhero and a real life artist.

Summary:

When Linus’ older brother Albie goes to Europe to fight in World War II, Linus is left with Mr. Superspeed, the superhero Albie created, to reassure him that Albie will be safe.  Along with other changes, Linus now takes over the delivery of groceries for the family store.  One of his regular customers is a man he calls Mister Orange for the crates of oranges he delivers.  Mister Orange turns out to be an artist from Holland (based on Piet Mondrian), who left to escape the Nazi oppression of the arts and artists.  Linus soon befriends Mister Orange and they have interesting conversations about art and life.  It is Mister Orange that Linus turns to when he reads a letter from Albie that portrays the reality of war as opposed to the romanticized version that Linus imagined when Albie first left.  Convinced that imagination has no practical use in the world, Linus even stops his conversations with Mr. Superspeed.  Through his friendship with Mister Orange, Linus is able to move past his shattered innocence and find a place for his imagination and himself in the world again.

Evaluation:

The story was written with simple and straightforward language.   Told from the point of view of a child, there is an innocence and wonder about the world as experienced by Linus.  The conversations with the imaginary superhero add to the innocent atmosphere.  This is until his illusions are shattered by the harsh truth about war and about life.  Matti has a beautiful scene where Mister Orange talks to Linus about the value of imagination.  This really conveys his theme also about art and its value.  The characters are likeable and believable.  Linus and his family could be any family with a child off at war.  Their relationships and struggles are true to life and easy to sympathize with.  Mister Orange is based on a real artist, Piet Mondrian.  At the end of the book is additional information and resources about Mondrian.  Overall, this book, while set during World War II was more about art and life than about war.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: art, history, World War II, family relationships, comics, imagination

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Erika’s Story by Ruth Vander Zee
  • Copprenickel Goes Mondrian by Maria Popova

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Conversations with Mr. Superspeed
  • Reading Albie’s letter about his friend dying
  • Mister Orange’s apartment decor
  • Conversation with Mister Orange about imagination

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Mister Orange says that you have to have imagination to be able to go to war.  Do you agree or disagree?
  • Can art fight wars?  How?
  • Why does the author use the conversations with Mr. Superspeed?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because I thought it was a novel about World War II.  It actually ended up being more about art and an artist.  However, the message about imagination was powerful and the characters were delightful.

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Flash Burnout by L.K. Madison

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Madigan, L.K.  Flash Burnout.  Houghton, 2009.  $16, 336 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.flashburnout.com/index.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

One photograph forever changes Blake’s relationship with his girlfriend and his friend who is a girl.

Summary:

Blake’s life is as good as it can be.  Even though he has supportive but weird parents who bring home death each day (his dad is a medical examiner, his mom is a chaplain), he has a beautiful girlfriend Shannon, enjoys watching Spinal Tap, making smart aleck comments, and photography, a class he shares with his friend Marissa.  Blake’s world is shaken up, however, when one of his “gritty” photographs of a homeless woman passed out in the street turns out to be Marissa’s meth-addicted mother.  When Marissa asks Blake to help her find her mother, he soon finds himself having to juggle his relationship with Shannon and his friendship with Marissa.  What once was a picture perfect life, has become overexposed in a flash burnout where all of his relationships are at risk.

Evaluation:

LK Madigan’s characterization of Blake and his friends is spot on and believable.  Told from Blake’s point of view, Flash Burnout provides a view right into a teenage boys head.  From the language used, to the sarcasm, lust, insecurities, doubts, struggles, and confusion, Blake is a realistic teen.  The portrayal of his relationships is also realistic.  Neither Shannon nor Marissa is painted as the “bad guy.”  Shannon struggles to be accepting of Blake and Marissa’s friendship and not to be jealous.  Marissa has no designs on Blake, and is not trying to break him and Shannon up.  The language used in the novel is contemporary, with liberal use of slang and other vernacular terms to make the characters and story even more realistic.  The quotes about photography and terms used throughout the novel, bring attention to particular aspects of the story.  Madigan beautifully explores the delicate balance of boy-girl relationships (romantic and platonic) in this novel.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre:  realistic fiction, romance, coming of age

Appeal Factors:  relationship drama, photography, high school protagonists, mystery, friendship

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2010 Best Books for Young Adults
  • 2010 William C. Morris Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Presenting the picture of Marissa’s mother to his photography class
  • DJ Cappie’s gossipy broadcast about Shannon being jealous
  • Gus and the Hurtle

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Are the portrayal of Blake’s relationships with Shannon and Marissa realistic?
  • How are the photography quotes at the beginning of each chapter significant?
  • Compare and contrast Blake and Marissa’s parents and the influence they have on their children.

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because of the potential for drama between Blake’s two relationships with girls, one romantic and the other platonic.  The picture on the cover drew me in with a boy with his eyes closed, holding two pictures of two different girls.  Then there was the mystery of what Blake and Marissa would do about Marissa’s mom.  Would they be able to find her?  Clean her up?  How would an experience like that change their friendship?  Would it bring them together and at what cost to Blake’s relationship with Shannon?