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A Mango-shaped space by Wendy Mass
Little, Brown, 2005

For her entire life, 13-year-old Mia has seen colours and shapes that nobody else can. For Mia, every noise, letter, and number has a specific colour and shape. In fact, she didn't name her cat Mango because of his orange eyes, but because his purr is the same orange colour as the flesh of a mango. It sounds like magic, but ever since the day in third grade when she wrote numbers on the blackboard in their correct colours and was called a freak by classmates, she has kept this a secret and tried her best to be "normal." When she starts failing her algebra and Spanish classes because the colours she sees make it difficult for her to understand, Mia tells her family. After seeing a doctor and a psychotherapist, Mia finally meets someone who can tell her what she needs to know: that she has something called synesthesia and she's not the only one. This opens a whole new world to Mia, but unfortunately there are prices to pay.

My initial impression of A Mango-shaped space was that Mia's voice was too old for someone who is 13. While I felt that Wendy Mass's descriptions of the colours and shapes Mia sees were very effective and put me inside her head, the occasional phrase in the first couple of chapters would take me out of the story. I just couldn't imagine Mia actually saying of her older sister "[she] dropped me like a bag of piping-hot microwave popcorn" (p. 7). Fortunately, this impression only applied to the early, more descriptive chapters and soon I was swept up in Mia's experience.

This is essentially a coming-of-age book that addresses friendship, a first kiss, family relationships, and grief. However, it is framed within Mia's discovery of synesthesia and figuring out how to deal with it and people's reactions to it and the fact that she kept it a secret for so long. It was remarkable how Wendy Mass described Mia's experience of synesthesia throughout the book, and it certainly increased my understanding of a rare and not often spoken-of human condition.

 


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