Reviews for Mango-Shaped Space : A Novel


Booklist Monthly Selections - # 1 April 2003
Gr. 6-10. This contemporary novel does for synesthesia what Terry Hesser's Kissing Doorknobs (1998) does for obsessive-compulsive disorder: the lively personal story demystifies a fascinating condition. For 13-year-old Mia Winchell, the world has always been filled with a wonderful, if sometimes dizzying, sensory onslaught--numbers, letters, words, and sounds all cause her to see a distinct array of colors. She keeps her unusual condition a secret until eighth grade, but then her color visions make math and Spanish impossibly confusing, and she must go to her parents and a doctor for help. However, this is more than a docu-novel. Mass beautifully integrates information about synesthesia with Mia's coming-of-age story, which includes her break with her best friend, her grief over her grandfather's death, and the loss of her beloved pet. The episode where Mia fabricates an illness to try out acupuncture for the color visions it produces is marvelously done, showing Mia's eagerness for new experiences even as it describes a synesthete's vision. References to a comprehensive Web site and bibliography about synesthesia are included. ((Reviewed April 1, 2003)) Copyright 2003 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2003 Fall
Thirteen-year-old Mia has a secret: for as long as she can remember, letters and numbers have had colors for her, and sounds have had both colors and shapes. A neurologist finally tells her she has a harmless condition called synesthesia. Mass skillfully conveys Mia's emotions, and readers will be intrigued with this fictional depiction of an actual, and fascinating, condition. Copyright 2003 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2003 #4
Thirteen-year-old Mia has a secret: for as long as she can remember, letters and numbers have had colors for her, and sounds have had both colors and shapes. Mia's kept quiet about it ever since she figured out, in third grade, that this makes her pretty freakish. But now she's failing algebra ("normally an x is a shiny maroon color...but here an x has to stand for an unknown number...and there are no maroon-colored numbers") and Spanish (she can't "match the colors of the English words to the new Spanish words"), so she comes clean to her parents. Worried, they take her to the pediatrician, who sends her to a psychotherapist, who sends her to a neurologist, who tells her she has a harmless condition called synesthesia. Mass skillfully conveys Mia's relief that there's nothing wrong with her and that the "cure" her parents want doesn't exist. Dr. Weiss assures Mia that her way of seeing the world--which she can't imagine being without, even if it sometimes makes life hard--is permanent, and that the only way it might disappear, temporarily, is from emotional trauma (prepping readers for some trauma-to-come). There's a little too much going on here: Mia misses her grandfather, who died a year ago; she and her best friend (still mourning her mother's death three years ago) have a falling out over Mia's secret; Mia suddenly has boys in her life (one classmate and one fellow synesthete she meets online); and Mia starts cheating at school and lying to her parents. Nevertheless, readers will be intrigued with Mass's fictional depiction of an actual, and fascinating, condition. Copyright 2003 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 2003 March #1
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. (Fiction. 9-13) Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved

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Publishers Weekly Review 2003 April #2
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. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2003 March
Gr 5-8-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 Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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VOYA Reviews 2003 April
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. 4Q 3P M J Copyright 2003 Voya Reviews

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