#46: A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

I’m coming right out with it:

There’s a cat in this book and it dies.

I knew it was going to die from the moment it appeared, but FFS!  Can we get some books where stuff happens that doesn’t involve the death of a beloved pet?

Our protagonist in A Mang0-Shaped Space is Mia Winchell.  She’s been keeping a secret from everyone since she was eight years old and learned it had to be kept a secret.  She has synesthesia, only she’s never heard that term before and doesn’t know it’s a thing.  All her life she’s seen letters and words as colors and textures.  Intense sounds explode into colors in her head.  When she realized that other people don’t see the same things, she learned to pretend and hide it from everyone.

But she’s thirteen now and school is finally falling apart.  She can’t make the numbers be something different in math and she can’t make words match up to the wrong colors in Spanish.  After another F in math, she decides it’s time to tell her parents.

After a trip to the pediatrician and a disastrous visit with a cruel psychotherapist, Mia is sent to a neurologist to see if she has a brain tumor.  Lucky for her, the nearby neurologist is studying synesthesia and is able to tell Mia and her parents that while it isn’t a normal thing, it’s not going to kill her and it’s not something that needs to be cured.

Mia then explores her brain to see what else it can do.  She learns from others who have synesthesia and experiments with different stimuli to increase the sensations and intensify her reactions.

While she does this, it looks like she’s going to lose her best friend, have her first romance, continue to fail at school, and help a five year old boy.

I didn’t love it.

When the book started I was really into it.  You see Mia panicking and holding everyone at a distance.  She’s mourning the death of her grandfather and coming to terms with starting a new year in school.  She knows she’s not normal and wishes that she could just be liked everyone else.  It’s painful.  No one needs extra pain on top of the run of the mill teenage angst.  She has no one to talk to.

I thought that it was going to take a while for her to get caught or willingly reveal her secret, but it happens fairly quickly.   And then she takes off on a mad path to see what else she can do and how much she could control.

Here’s where things got weird for me.  On the one hand, I totally understood her celebration.  For the first time in her life she has a name for what she has… for what she IS.  She doesn’t have to hide it and she has an online connection to other people who have the same thing.  It makes sense that she’s eager to explore and share and learn.

But for some reason it fell apart for me here.  I didn’t feel like it fit her personality to shut everyone else out so completely even though she had kept them away from her secret for so long.  I wish there had been more exploration for this giant shift in personality.  I know that it makes sense, but at the same time I wish Mass had shown it more.

Mia’s friendship issues worked well.  A lot changes for girls in the eighth grade.  Boobs start appearing.  Priorities change.  Boys become interesting.  Schoolwork become challenging in different ways.  There are plenty of books that just explore these issues.  Throw synesthesia in and you’ve got an entirely new path to explore these problems with.  Along with her best friend, Mia has other girl friends to share with and push away.  For the most part, I liked these scenes.

I did feel like some of the the conflicts got too easy.  Mia has a huge falling out with her best friend.  There are a few moments where the friend explains why she’s so hurt and it makes sense.  We see their relationships before Mia tells people her secret and to have it change so drastically so quickly didn’t work for me.

Her first romance, on the other hand, did work for me.  It was awkward and unexpected and it felt very realistic.

And then, of course, her cat dies and things change.

Why do the pets always have to die?

I think this is a great book to learn about synesthesia.  I liked the characters and the story, but overall it wasn’t a huge win for me.  It did make me wonder about my own math games.  Growing up, I assigned personalities to the numbers one – ten to help myself get work done, especially when it came to multiplication.  I always figured I had an overactive imagination.  Was that a mild form of synesthesia or did I just like to make up stories?

In case you’re wondering, eight is a fucking bully.  I hated that guy.

One response to “#46: A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

  1. Pingback: pyrajane’s review #46: A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass « Cannonball Read IV

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