The Bogan Mondrian by Steven Herrick

Inside the CBCA Shortlist

Steven Herrick has a stunning list of verse novels, poetry and prose for children and young adults. His books have been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards multiple times and my favourite of his works, The Spangled Drongo, won the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for children’s literature.

I reviewed his middle-fiction verse novel, Pookie Aleera is not my Girlfriend  and YA verse novel Another Night in Mullet Town for the Weekend Australian Review.

His latest book The Bogan Mondrian (University of Queensland Press) has been shortlisted for the Older Readers category of the CBCA and deserves this honour. It is a novel, rather than a verse novel.

Luke comes from a working-class family who live on the “povo side of the highway” in the Blue Mountains. His father has died from cancer and his mother is a cleaner. Luke has grown up with loving parents who trust him. While being rough around the edges, he is a good son and is kind to his neighbour, Mr Rosetti and a neglected dog, Buster.

He becomes friendly with new girl, Charlotte, who is a pianist and doesn’t like men who talk down to people. We soon learn that this is because her father beats her mother. He always appears sorry afterwards and charms most people. Luke tries to help Charlotte and her mother but solutions to domestic violence are not easy.

The writing is economical, with short sentences. Dialogue is authentic and Luke’s repartee after assembly is sharp and funny. The brief descriptions of the bush and reservoir are poetic and the binary oppositions (opposites) are subtle yet penetrating: Charlotte “shiny” and rich, Luke in “skanky” clothes and poor; Luke’s father was a drinker and gambler but loving, Charlotte’s father abusive; Rodney is a car thief who was fostered as a child, Charlotte’s father had a deprived childhood but has become a community leader; Charlotte loves Mondrian and Luke loves photography.

The title seems enigmatic. Charlotte describes Luke as King Mondrian, referring to her favourite artist but he jokes he is more like the Bogan Mondrian. Charlotte’s room is decorated in Mondrian’s horizonal and vertical lines and blocks of primary colour. She loves Mondrian, “But it doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t solve anything.”

The Bogan Mondrian is a powerful portrayal of young tender masculinity.  It is an irresistible story, although poignant and gut-wrenching. It is one of Steven Herrick’s best works.

Steven Herrick’s website is http://www.stevenherrick.com.au/index.html

Using the book with students:

Mondrian Read the sections about Mondrian, e.g. pages 86 -, 90, 93-4, 99, 239. View the artist’s work in books or online. Consider how Jo Hunt has designed the novel cover – colours and lines. What do the shapes represent? e.g. the reservoir. How are these similar and different to Mondrian’s work? Students paint a representation of a school or home using Mondrian’s lines and colours.

Domestic Violence Read the sections where Luke is advised how to help Charlotte and her mother. Compare with research on Australian guidelines on how to act in these situations. Also read The Build-Up Season by Megan Jacobson about youth domestic violence.

Guess the Books The English teacher loves three books. Guess what the first two are (pages 61, 124). The answer is on page 151. Find other real and literary examples of heroic failure.

Verse Novel There is a funny scene where Luke, who dislikes poetry, picks up a verse novel. His Maths teacher suggests it may give a new perspective, pp 59-60.

After reading the whole or part of one of Herrick’s verse novels, rewrite part of The Bogan Mondrian as a verse novel.

Meeting of Herrick’s Characters Read one or more of Steven Herrick’s YA books. Select a character or two from one of the author’s other books to meet a character from the Bogan Mondrian. Luke and his best mate Blake like swimming and fishing at the reservoir so they might get on well with Jonah and Manx from Another Night in Mullet Town. Ad lib a dialogue between characters or construct a dialogue in writing.

Photo Gallery Luke photographs the natural world and makes a gallery in the bush for his father. He is later given frames to be filled with photos of people. Students take photos of people and select one to be framed. They could make frames from cardboard or other materials.

Buy books https://www.booksellers.org.au/find-a-bookshop

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