Friday, December 02, 2016

A Mango-shaped Space

A Mango-shaped Space
by Wendy Mass

Thirteen year old Mia is a synesthete, but she doesn't know that term yet. Her brain is wired such that her visual and auditory senses are interconnected so that words and sounds come associated with colors and shapes that fill her world.

When called upon to solve a math problem on the board at eight, Mia figures out not every one sees colors and shapes in letters and numbers.

"This isn't art class," Mrs.Lowe said, wagging her long, skinny finger at me as if I didn't know that. "Just use the white chalk."

"But isn't it better to use the right colors?" I asked, confident that the other kids would agree.

"What do you mean, the right colors?" she asked, sounding genuinely confused and more than a little annoyed.


"The colors. The colors of the numbers, you know, like the two is pink, well of course it's not this shade of pink, more like cotton-candy pink, and the four is baby-blanket blue and I... I just figured it would be easier to do the math problem with the numbers in the correct colors. Right?"

Of course, her classmates call her a Freak. She learns to lie about her color-filled world when her parents are called in to talk to the Principal. She even hides it from her best friend, and most of all from her family - her older sister and younger brother.

While the plot is a big tangle of threads, none of which go anywhere significant, the rich description of how Mia feels and sees the world full of color is beautifully described throughout the book. She does manage to find out what her condition is after some initial struggles. She manages to connect with an online community of fellow synesthetes. She even extends a hand to a little kid who seems to be a synesthete but is not acknowledged as such by his parents.

Sibling interactions are quite real, the family is fairly odd, living in a fairly unconventional house; Mia misses her grandpa who passed away as the book starts. Which is when she finds this scrawny orange kitten who has this extended orange aura. She names the kitten Mango and cares for him as best as she can. But, the kitten dies due to illness and Mia is devastated, of course -- not for long as she discovers Mango's offspring having the same aura.

A whole bunch of different things happen which don't all come together cohesively, but, in the end we come out of the book knowing a lot more about synesthesia in a positive way, and feel like we know what Mia is going through even though our world is not as lit with color as hers.

[image source: Wendy Mass website]

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