by Steven Herrick
reviewed by Dajo Finlayson
From the very outset this book had me captivated. The vibrantly coloured front and back covers caught my attention as I’ve always been a fan of the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian’s work. His wonderfully abstract, colourful, cubist block designs which he considered to be ‘an escape from reality’ are exactly what Charlotte needs to escape her reality. She purposely paints her room in the style of Mondrian to escape her father’s physical and emotional abuse of her and her mother.
Then the end papers also provoked an immediate interest with their black and white depiction of the branches of a tree, another favourite theme in Mondrian’s work, and a clue to a later section of the novel wherein Luke and the dog, Buster, are at the reservoir sharing some shade.
The quotes on the front endpaper and back cover are also indicative of one of the themes of the novel, that of domestic abuse. From the opening lines of this powerful novel we are drawn into the mystery that will soon follow. ‘Promise me you won’t leave the house’ Mum begs, but Luke, who is feigning illness, has other plans.
In the wake of his father’s death, Luke daydreams his way through his classes, regularly wags school, and often goes to the reservoir, where he can swim and forget his grief for a little while. He befriends a neglected dog and spends his time chatting with friends or his older Italian and Vietnamese neighbours. Then one day the mysterious Charlotte comes into his classes and, after striking up a mutual friendship, he realises that ‘There are worse things than school’ and his own grief.
While Luke tries to come to terms with losing his dad, Charlotte dreams of one thing: getting rid of hers. Charlotte comes from a wealthy family, unlike Luke who lives on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ and whose mother works as a cleaner to make ends meet. But, things are not what they seem in Charlotte’s household and after a particularly nasty incident Luke decides to take things into his own hands and help Charlotte and her mother confront and deal with her abusive father.
The Bogan Mondrian deals with the fallout of domestic violence in a sensitive, subtle way. It also addresses the notion of masculinity and what it can mean. Herrick has created in Luke and other male characters powerful yet unexpected examples of strength, empathy and kindness. These characters are complex and authentic and have a strong moral compass and sense of justice. A clever, poignant and, at times, humorous novel with a great insight into the adolescent mind and with great interplay between the main characters, supported by other interesting background characters.
Although The Bogan Mondrian could be set anywhere in the world, there is always something uniquely Australian about Herrick’s characters and here he has created a heart-rending story of pain, despair, hope and fighting back. In this powerful young adult novel from a master storyteller and the pioneer of the verse novel genre Herrick’s gentle humour and vibrant characters bring both warmth and light to difficult topics. If you enjoyed Love, Ghosts and Nose Hair or The Simple Gift, then you won’t want to miss The Bogan Mondrian. Teacher’s Notes
University of Queensland Press 2018 Paperback $19.95 248 pages ISBN 9780702259982
About the Author
Steven Herrick is the author of twenty-four books for children and young adults. His books have twice won the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and have been shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards on eight occasions. He is widely recognised as a pioneer of the verse-novel genre for young adults. He is also the author of six travel books. He spends nine months of the year visiting schools in Australia and three months on his bicycle pedalling slowly and thinking about his next book. He lives and writes in the Blue Mountains, where many of his books are set.