Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

Genre: Young adult
Publisher, Year: Little Brown, 2003
Other Works: Leap Day, Jeremy Fink
Flags: None
Rating: B+ or Mostly Good
Premise: Mia is a girl with special abilities--she sees color where others don't. She struggles to find out what this ability is and what it means to her.

I really liked the idea of this book, the main character being a girl, Mia, who sees color in numbers and words. At first, I didn’t realize that this phenomenon, named synesthesia , is a real thing—something that occurs in the actual world in which I live. I thought it was the invention of a creative author, and that the story would unfold similarly to a fantasy novel where the main character has special powers. Although Mia does sort of view her colors as magical, her condition is definitely real. And very cool. I loved Mass’s writing style, somewhat matter-of-fact but very smooth and moving at times. And she really made middle school come alive again for me! Whether that’s a good thing, I’m still not sure. My favorite “middle school” passage includes a schoolmate who covers a so-called “dirty book” with a paper sack cover and a description of a group of boys eating disgusting combinations of foods at lunch, ending with one going to the nurse because he swallowed a dime. Oh how I don’t miss those days!

Mia has a secret. She has seen colors connection with letters, numbers, words, and sounds since birth, but she’s never revealed this to her family since a bad experience in the third grade. Finally, she decides she has to tell her parents. Many trips to doctors ensue as her parents try to make sense of something that seems so strange. Mia feels no less nervous because she’s waited so long to know what causes her colors. As she learns more about synesthesia, Mia learns more about herself and she gets caught up in what her ability means for her, ignoring everything and everyone else in her life. Then something happens that teaches her an important lesson.

I loved Mia’s family. I felt Mass did a wonderful job describing each one and their quirks, her goofy dad, too-cool-for-school older sister, superstitious little brother, and a mom who just doesn’t seem to understand (isn’t it always the way?), then last but not least her loveable, wheezy cat. I have two cats of my own and couldn’t help feel connected to the pet-love plot line. Sometimes it’s weird to think how domesticated animals become part of the family, but they really do.

I loved the beginning and the end of the novel, but the author sort of lost me in the middle. Although her discovery of her “ability” was definitely a good thing, I felt the story sort of dwindled for me, and I started to wonder what the book was really about. I had a hard time figuring out what the purpose of the book was. Was it supposed to show how Mia was discovering herself in finding out her own abilities and seeing them as strengths? Learning about how her synesthesia could be enhanced by certain activities was interesting for me, but I was left wondering how it furthered the themes in the story. Throughout, I had an increasingly harder time liking Mia as she became more and more self-absorbed. Perhaps I was wanting this book to be something it’s not.

I still found many moments to enjoy in this novel. Mass is a gifted writer, and although this book may not have been my favorite, I’m interested to see if I might like one of her other books better.

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