Mango-Shaped Space (Mass) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
In an intriguing first novel, Mass introduces a 13-year-old heroine with an unusual perspective. Mia Winchell is a synesthete; her visual and hearing senses are connected so that numbers, letters, words, sounds and even some people's auras appear to her as colors. The letter "a," for instance, is the shade of a "faded sunflower," screeching chalk "makes red jagged lines in the air," and Mia's beloved cat, Mango, is surrounded by an orange cloud. Mia's unique view proves to be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, she enjoys having heightened senses ("If I couldn't use my colors, the world would seem so bland-like vanilla ice cream without the gummy bears on top," she says). On the other hand, sometimes it's hard for her being reminded that she is different, like when her brother, Zack, calls her "the Missing Link." Although the story line, at times, seems cluttered with underdeveloped subplots about Mia's friendships, potential romances and conflicts at school, the novel's premise is interesting enough to keep pages turning. The author successfully brings abstract ideas down to earth. Her well-defined characterizations, natural-sounding dialogue, and concrete imagery allow readers to feel Mia's emotions and see through her eyes a kaleidoscopic world, which is at once confusing and beautiful. Ages 10-13.
Publishers Weekly


Mia, 13, has always seen colors in sounds, numbers, and letters, a fact she has kept secret since the day she discovered that other people don't have this ability. Then she discovers that she has a rare condition called synesthesia, which means that the visual cortex in her brain is activated when she hears something. From then on, she leads a kind of double life-she eagerly attends research gatherings with other synesthetes and devours information about the condition, but continues to struggle at school, where her inadvertent pairing of particular colors with numbers and words makes math and French almost impossible to figure out. Her gradual abandonment of her frustrating school life in favor of the compelling world of fellow synesthetes and the unique things only they can experience seems quite logical, although readers may feel like shaking some sense into her. Finally, and rather abruptly, her extreme guilt at her beloved cat Mango's illness and death brings her back down to earth and she begins to work on some of the relationships she let crumble. Mia's voice is believable and her description of the vivid world she experiences, filled with slashes, blurs, and streaks of color, is fascinating. Not all of the many characters are necessary to the story, and some of the plot elements go unresolved, but Mia's unique way of experiencing the world is intriguing. —Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library
School Library Journal


Mia, age 13, has a secret she has guarded closely. She is concerned that others will regard her as a freak if she admits that sounds, numbers, and letters have color for her. When her beloved cat Mango meows and purrs, for example, she sees puffs of yellow-orange color in the air. This ability makes it hard for Mia to do math and foreign languages, however, and now that she is in middle school that's a problem. She finally admits to her parents what's been going on, and they take her first to a family doctor and then to a sympathetic neurologist. The neurologist explains that she has synesthesia a harmless condition in which her visual and hearing senses are linked. He gives her the address of a Web site so that she can contact others with synesthesia and invites her to a conference where she meets others with the same condition, including a boy who gives Mia her first kiss. Her best friend is furious that Mia has never told her about her condition, but in the end, despite the trauma of Mango's death, Mia comes to understand what an important part of her life her synesthesia is. The information on this rare condition is fascinating, but as my 15-year-old daughter points out, the plot of this novel isn't half as interesting. Mia's ups and downs with friends, boys, and family are fairly ordinary. Still, for those interested in psychology and the workings of the brain, this novel will hold their attention.
Paula Rohrlick - KLIATT


Mia was humiliated in third grade when her whole class ridiculed her for presenting a math problem using colored chalk because it made sense to her to write each number in its own color. When the teacher sent her to the principal's office and even her parents failed to understand, she decided never to mention the incident or her unique ability again. Now in eighth grade, Mia is having trouble in math and Spanish and is forced to tell her parents. Not only does Mia see each number and letter in its own particular color, but sounds produce colors and shapes in front of her. Her cat is even named Mango because his meow produces mango-colored puffs. Mia's parents take her to a string of doctors until they find a neurologist who explains that Mia has a harmless condition called synesthesia. "It means 'senses coming together.' Imagine that the wires in your brain are crossed... your visual and hearing senses are linked." After meeting other synesthetes and armed with new understanding, Mia moves from hiding her colors in shame to accepting them as a gift. Mia is devastated when Mango dies, believing that she was so busy worrying about her condition that she neglected to notice his strange behavior. Eventually her parents are able to reassure her, and readers with similar concerns could find great comfort in these passages. Despite her special condition, Mia's narrative shows her to be a typical teen with best friend troubles, sibling rivalries, and potential boyfriends. Although this book is probably not one that teens will pick up without coaxing, they will enjoy this unique look at a fascinating condition. It is highly recommended for the middle school crowd.
Angela Carstensen - VOYA


A young teen whose world is filled with colors and shapes that no one else sees copes with the universal and competing drives to be unique and to be utterly and totally normal. Thirteen-year-old Mia is a synesthete: her brain connects her visual and auditory systems so that when she hears, or thinks about, sounds and words, they carry with them associated colors and shapes that fill the air about her. This is a boon in many ways-she excels in history because she can remember dates by their colors-and a curse. Ever since she realized her difference, she has concealed her ability, until algebra defeats her: "Normally an x is a shiny maroon color, like a ripe cherry. But here an x has to stand for an unknown number. But I can't make myself assign the x any other color than maroon, and there are no maroon-colored numbers.... I'm lost in shades of gray and want to scream in frustration." When Mia learns that she is not alone, she begins to explore the lore and community of synesthesia, a process that disrupts her relationships with her family, friends, and even herself. In her fiction debut for children, Mass has created a memorable protagonist whose colors enhance but do not define her dreamily artistic character. The present-tense narration lends immediacy and impact to Mia's color perceptions: "Each high-pitched meow sends Sunkist-orange coils dancing in front of me...." The narrative, however, is rather overfull of details—a crazily built house, highly idiosyncratic family members, two boy interests, a beloved sick cat—which tend to compete for the reader's attention in much the same way as Mia's colors. This flaw (not unusual with first novels) aside, here is a quietly unusual and promising offering.
Kirkus Reviews

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