Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
Copyright 2003
Little, Brown & Co. - YA
221 pages
Includes reading group guide

School starts in a few days, and I'm trying to squeeze every last drop out of summer. Literally. I'm squeezing lemons for the lemonade stand Zack and I set up on our street corner.
"Why don't you just use lemonade mix like everyone else?" Beth asks as she passes through the kitchen and into the pantry. She returns with a few sandwich bags and a Magic Marker.
"This is a quality establishment," Zack replies, carefully stirring in the sugar with a long spoon.
"What are the bags for?" I ask as Beth lays them flat on the counter. Zack stops stirring to listen.
"If you must know, I'm sorting herbs for a big project I'm working on."
Zack and I raise our eyebrows at each other.
"If you turn me into a frog, I'm telling Mom and Dad," Zack says, holding the spoon in front of him like a sword.
Beth grunts and turns her back to us. We continue making the lemonade and leave her to her sorcery.
When we are alone again, I ask Zack, "Does the yellow of this lemon remind you of anything?"
"Huh? Like what?"
"Oh, I don't know. Like the letter a or the number four?"
He stops midstir. "What are you talking about?

"Never mind."

Everyone thinks I named my cat Mango because of his orange eyes, but that's not the case. I named him Mango because the sounds of his purrs and his wheezes and his meows are all various shades of yellow-orange . . .

Mia has kept a secret since the time she wrote a math problem on the board in school and was heckled for explaining that she chose different chalk colors to match the color of each number. Everyone thought she was crazy, even her parents. But, soon she'll know better. She has synesthesia, a condition that causes her to see sounds, numbers and letters in color.

When Mia meets a little boy who also sees things in color, she's shocked. But, then she investigates and finds that she's not alone. As she gets to know other synesthetes via her home computer, she finds ways to enhance her ability, to the point that she's losing touch with reality.

Then, disaster strikes and Mia finds that she has to lose something crucial to realize what she already has.

A Mango-Shaped Space is a quirky and fun book with a very serious side. I'd heard of synesthesia, but I've not ever read much about it. A friend of mine was apparently a synesthete, although I'm not sure she knew that any more than Mia does at the opening of the book. My friend told me she saw numbers and letters as colors and that she saw auras around people, but I think she thought of it as some sort of psychic ability.

In A Mango-Shaped Space, Mia is totally clueless until she meets a little boy in a grocery store and they have a very brief conversation.

He giggles and comes out from behind his mom a little more. "Mia is a pretty name."
"Thanks," I say, flashing him a Winchell smile. My family may not be blessed with height, but we have good teeth and try to show them when we can.
"It's purple with orange stripes," he announces, his voice more assured now. "I like it a lot."
Still smiling, I shake my head and say, "No, silly, it's candy-apple red with a hint of light green." And then what he said hits me. My smile slowly disappears, and my heart starts to pound.

Her encounter with the boy is so brief that Mia doesn't even know if he lives in town. But, now that Mia knows she's not alone in her ability, she investigates -- and tries to hunt down the little boy. She gets the same sort of reaction as she got the first time; everyone thinks she's got a mental problem, at first. Then, Mia is referred to someone who can really help her, a neurologist who understands her condition and even leads a support group. I'm including a lot of quotes because I adored the characters in this book. Mia comes from a really odd but close little family and that gives the book a warm and unique touch. Zack is particularly fun.

"I think it's pretty neat," he says, following me inside.
"You do?"
"Sure," he says, grinning. "Now I know you're the strangest one in the family after all. And you had some stiff competition."

Mia starts connecting with other synesthetes online and finds that there are ways to enhance her ability. She becomes so bent on doing so that it's almost like a drug to her. Then, a shock makes her lose her her ability completely. At that point, she must decide whether she even wants to see color in every number, letter and sound. Is it really necessary to her? It's caused her all sorts of problems, especially in school. But, Mia finds herself feeling very alone and empty.

Bottom line:

I thought A Mango-Shaped Space was just wonderful. Synesthesia is apparently considered a disability and it definitely causes Mia to have difficulty in certain subject areas. But, the author doesn't look at it quite that way. She humanizes Mia's dysfunction and shows how something that seems freaky and is a bit disabling can also have some very dramatic benefits. On the back cover of the book is a note that A Mango-Shaped Space is the "Winner of the ALA Schneider Family Book Award, honoring artistic expression of the disability experience." Cool. I think it's very deserving. It's also always refreshing to read a YA book that is clean. It's been a few weeks since I read the book, but I recall a single kiss and no swearing.

I'm going to try to make this a big whip-out-a-bunch-of-reviews day, in between errands. Okay, forget that. I ended up with more errands than expected, so we'll just stick with this one review for today. Happy Tuesday!


  1. I recently read Finally by Wendy Mass and I just loved it. It left me anxious to read more of her books.

  2. That's exactly how I felt when I finished A Mango-Shaped Space. More, more! I'll look up Finally. Thanks, Kathy. :)

  3. I hadn't heard of this book so thank you for the review! It sounds incredible. It is going straight to the wish list.

  4. Oh yay - I'm so glad to hear this is so good! I actually own it! I acquired it without having heard anything about it because I'd read a short story by Wendy Mass and had enjoyed it. Now I'm eager to read it - moving it to the June pile, in fact.

  5. Amy,

    It's so excellent, I think I want to read the book a second time before I part with my copy. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


    Awesome! How often does that happen? LOL I got really lucky and just happened across my copy in the remainders. Thanks to a few off-kilter pages, I got a great book at a decent price. Gotta love that. Hope you enjoy it!

  6. Ooooh I want to read this one NOW! :D I've been wanting to read more about synesthesia as it's always really interested me...isn't the brain an interesting thing? This just sounds like a really sweet and fun book too. K, off to see if I can score it from a swap site!

  7. Chris,

    Shucks, I should have found you an extra copy. Yes, indeedy, the brain is a fascinating thing. It is definitely a sweet and fun book. The youngsters are whip-smart, which makes for great dialogue. I'm sure you'll love it.

  8. I have never read anything about synesthesia so I'm very curious, and adding this book to my TBR. Why is seeing things as colors considered a disability? are there other um, symptoms associated with it?

  9. The first time I heard of synesthesia is when I read my class The Name of This Book Is Secret this Spring. They loved it! I even found a test on Google to see if you had this condition; the kids numbered a paper 1 through ten, then I read a random number and they wrote down a color they 'saw'. A few weeks later you do the same thing to see if the two tests match. It was fun to try, even if no one in my class had the ability. I love your reviews and your blog, Bookfool. You always give me something to think about, or go on ad nauseum about in the comment box. ;)

  10. Happy Tuesday Bookfool! Really enjoyed your review of this one. Sounds like a great book.

  11. Jeane,

    There were a couple of things that made it a disability in the case of that particular character. Too much noise made colors dance around like crazy and become overwhelming to her, especially several different noises at once, all of which had different colors and patterns associated with them.

    Also, she had trouble with math and languages because in order to learn things she tried to come up with a way to connect her colors to whatever she was learning. With foreign words, there was no context for association -- meaning she might see the word for blue in a blend of colors and then add to that the fact that it's foreign and you've got a problem. I hope that makes sense. It's really quite fascinating.


    Oh, cool! This is the first book I've seen about synesthesia, although I realized that my friend was a synesthete when I first read an article about the condition. It's nice to know there's a book in which it can be identified early, even if nobody in your class had the condition. That sounds like a great class project. And, I love it when you have an excuse to go on, ad nauseum. :)


    Thank you! Hope you're having a good day! I really enjoyed this book. I'm convinced I have to read it, again, before I part with my copy.

  12. This does sound really good. You read the best stuff!

  13. Anonymous5:06 PM

    It sounds fascinating...thanks for the heads-up!

  14. Care,

    Why thank you, dear. It's so nice to see you're back to commenting! Welcome back! This book was definitely a serendipitous find. I'd never heard of it; I just flipped through a remaindered copy and thought it sounded good, so I bought it. Great move. :)


    It is fascinating and the characters are really wonderful -- nice and eccentric. I love that.

  15. This looks like a great opportunity to learn about something I am unfamiliar with. I love how people can always find someone to connect with online. Even for something as rare as this disability. It is great to find out that you are not alone.

  16. Nicole,

    A Mango-Shaped Space is a definitely a terrific way to learn about that unique condition. You have to appreciate it when an author educates you and entertains at the same time.

    The internet is definitely awesome for finding out you're not alone with something rare! I was diagnosed with a syndrome that's quite rare, a few years back, so I got into a support group and they were actually better-informed than most doctors. After reading the chatter, asking questions and reading up on articles they'd linked to, I managed to figure out I had a similar but much less ominous syndrome (totally gone, now, wahoo). You can imagine how much I appreciated that little group!

  17. Oooh, by the way, there's a nonfic book on synesthesia that I've been wanting to read called Wednesday is Indigo Blue...sounds really good. If you're ever interested in learning more about it you may want to check it out. Just a recommendation! Eva reviewed it awhile back.

  18. Chris,

    You are so in trouble for tempting an addict with another juicy title. I'm going to have to come down there and hand you a dozen books, just to punish you.

  19. Yes, that does make sense. I thought it might be something like that, but not sure. So it's a sensory-input disorder? how interesting.

  20. Hi Nancy! So guess what? I'm synaesthetic. I see numbers and letters in color and have all my life, as well as my brother and one of my sisters. My sister and I used to argue about which letters are which colors when we were little.

    I've never considered synaesthesia a disability. It was years before I ever knew most people don't see things in color. In fact, in college, I used to think it was something I could teach people! I tried to teach this guy I dated briefly how to see in color, but he couldn't. A decade later, we met up through myspace and he told me he'd done research on synaesthesia in grad school. He'd remembered our conversation about color right away. I was thrilled to find out the name of this condition.

    I can't imagine living without my syn. I absolutely love it. I have all sorts of stories about it. :D

    My son is reading this book right now!

  21. Jeane,

    That I don't know. In the book, I think the neurologist mentioned that it hasn't been determined whether it's something that everyone has and most grow out of or it's limited to certain people, but if you read Amanda's comment you'll see that it seems to be hereditary, at least in her family. Fascinating, yes?


    That is so cool. I found myself a little envious of Mia, as I was reading the book, and was totally in awe of my synesthetic friend. You're obviously proof of a comment that synesthetes are wildly creative (my friend was, too).

    You should write a book about synesthesia, yourself, since you have "lots of stories" to tell about it. You can see a lot of people are interested from the burst of comments this post generated!

    Hope your son loves the book! I don't think my friend thought of synesthesia as a disability, either. Must be an individual thing, just like the fact that synesthetes see the same letters in different colors.

  22. This one sounds fascinating. I'm familiar with the subject, but just barely. Loved your review.

  23. Holly,

    I only recently read about the condition online (some time within the past year), so it was mostly new to me. Thank you!

  24. I can see how it could become a disability if you have color-sound syn, but my syn has never hindered me in any harmful way. Maybe I should write a book about a syn character! I never thought about doing that. Syn is just so natural to me it feels like everyday stuff.

    And yes, syn is supposed to be fairly hereditary, particularly down the female line but not always. Curiously, though, my sister lost her syn after she learned French and Arabic, whereas learning French didn't change my syn.

  25. Amanda,

    Mia did have color-sound syn, but I think it was the fact that she couldn't find a visual clue to connect a foreign word to something she knew and could easily memorize that made it difficult for her to learn languages. That is so fascinating about your sister losing hers.

    You should definitely write a book. I don't think I'd even care whether it was fiction or nonfiction; I'd read it.

  26. I had no idea this was a real thing. I definitely have strong associations between numbers and colors and letters and colors.

  27. J.T.,

    That is so cool! You should grab a copy of this book, for sure. BTW, The Professor and the Madman arrived safely. Thanks so much!!

  28. i read 'a mango shaped space' about a year ago. i realised that i have what she has. i thought 'a' was red to everyone and that '3' was dark green and moody. this book changed my life!

  29. Im reading this! It's so awesome!!! Like, this book can make u cry.


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