Linus meets the artist, Piet Mondrian, after taking over the delivery route that Simon used to do. His parents own a grocery store in New York during the 1940s. Linus is the third child out of six and times have changed since his oldest brother, Albie, volunteered to fight in World War II. On the delivery route Linus meets Piet Mondrian but he cannot pronounce his name so he calls him, "Mister Orange," because he delivers a crate of oranges once a week to him. Linus learns that the artist fled Europe because the Nazi's would not give him the freedom to paint what he wanted to and banned his art. Art under Hitler was a propaganda machine not a form of artistic expression and abstract art did not further the Third Reich in any political way. Linus first thinks of war in a glorified way believing Albie has superpowers like the comic book characters he so loves to reads. He slowly learns from letters that Albie writes home that war is "wretched" and by talking about it with Mr. Orange Linus discovers that freedom of expression and imagination whether in art or any other form is worth fighting for.
The subplot of Linus losing his friend to a bully shows how fickle friendships can be. Linus is mad at him but then gets over it and later they are friends again. They don't really think too much about it or hash over it when they reunite and I found their actions authentic and spot on for their age. Some kids handle conflict like this and don't have the vocabulary to deal with it in what an adult might find as an immature manner, but I did wish Linus had asked why his best friend became friends with the bully. The only explanation is Linus speculating that the bully is older in age and perhaps that had an appeal to his best friend. This seemed a bit weak even though I liked the portrayal of the boys friendship overall.
The other subplot of the superhero was unique revealing an interesting way that Linus dealt with his fears. Albie and Linus love comics and Albie even creates one called Mr. Superspeed. Linus talks to this imaginary superhero and expects him to protect Albie. It is through his imaginary conversations with Mr. Superspeed that Linus learns to face his fears about his brother being killed in the war and change in his understanding of how dangerous war is for not only Albie but other soldiers. When he talks to Mr. Orange about Albie and their comic creation, he is able to put together that Albie is fighting for the freedom to choose how to live one's life.
Linus questions Mr. Orange and the value of art when there is a war going on. Mr. Orange explains how imagination is the mother of invention. If people are not allowed to imagine then cities would not have been built. Nor subways invented. Then he talks about how art scares the Nazis. How they silence people whose art has different opinions than their propaganda. He also states, "Whenever people have their freedom taken away, they always fight back." Later in a powerful climax, Linus articulates his conversation with Mr. Orange by comforting his dad in an explanation of Albie using his imagination for a better future and doing the right thing for freedom.
I remember having a conversation with my dad about great architects in Barcelona after a jaunt around the city looking at Antonio Gaudi's fabulous buildings. My dad talked about how difficult he thought it was to take risks in designing a building. If it fails, it is an expensive eyesore for all to see. It is someone else's money. Many times the client has their own ideas that are at odds with the architect's. He felt that as the company's owner he couldn't take great risks. While this is not a message in this book, the topic of imagination between Linus and Piet, reminded of this conversation regarding great artists and architects. Writing a great book could be added to that discussion. It is fascinating when art blossoms throughout history. When the right people come together at the right time and their imaginations invent something completely new. Piet Mondrian is one of those people and "Mister Orange" is book that will make you think.