Friday, April 1, 2011
A Mango-Shaped Space- Wendy Mass
This is a book about synesthesia.
Wonder where the plot might come from? Yeah, I did too. But this is one of those great books that is not all about explaining a condition. This is really a book about the relatable Mia, who is going through a process of learning about herself.
For Mia, letters, numbers, and words have colors and textures in addition to sounds, values, and meanings. Sounds and energy also have hues and physical shapes. Unfortunately, this makes a loud cafeteria a chaotic explosion of visual "noise." In Spanish class, it gives the word amigo totally different properties from the word friend. And it makes doing math problems impossible, where the sum does not reflect the qualities of individual numbers. Mia has kept her condition a secret, but when she does badly enough in school, she and her parents finally learn there is a name for this-- synesthesia-- and that Mia is one of many.
Through the internet, Mia starts to learn all about a community that she had no idea she was part of. This is where things get interesting. She becomes absorbed in the exploration of her condition, blocking out her family, classmates, teachers, and even her best friend. Mia also has a wheezing kitten she loves very much, and when the little cat goes missing, you know it's going to be bad news but also the impetus for revelation.
I think it's worth noting that really successful young adult books teach readers something about themselves as well as about the world. Mia is not alone in her obsession with self-discovery and her resulting self-isolation. Wendy Mass effectively captures that train of thought that takes Mia so far away from everyone else, and I think that's what makes the story so effective. Many YA novels incorporate pithier plotlines that have us screaming "Why are you treating your best friend like that? Why are you ignoring your parents?" and already we know that there is going to be a little "I told you that was not cool" at the end. Here, Mia gets to a place of mutual empathy and understanding with the people who care about her, and it feels genuine.