Review: A Mango-Shaped Space

“I stare at the paper. ‘Other people with synesthesia?’ Jerry nods. ‘All kinds of people with all different types of synesthesia.’ ” p. 107

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2003.
MG realistic fiction, 271 pages + extras.
Lexile:  770L  .
AR Level:  4.7 (worth 9.0 points)  .

Eighth grader Mia reads, and hears, with specific colors and shapes in her mind.  It makes otherwise boring moments interesting, gives her headaches when her father is hammering away on their house, causes her to hear her cat as the color mango, and makes learning math a lot more complicated.  But back in third grade, she learned that not everyone experiences the world this way.  With middle-school algebra on the horizon, is it finally time to talk about her experiences?

Mango-Shaped Space resized

This book isn’t ethnically diverse, but the primary topic is synesthesia.  At the time it was first published, it helped raise awareness about a little-known condition.

Many Spoilers, scroll down to avoid
Some parts may give parents pause – much discussion about crushes, some talk on how babies are made, flirtatious emails and so on.  Towards the end of the book, Mia has her first kiss when she meets her email friend in person for the first time.  I did like that she became aware of his true nature and later regretted the choice.  However, this was a prime opportunity for a girl to stand up for her body and what she’s comfortable with that instead turned into a girl moving too quickly to please an older boy.  I suppose given that this was published in 2003, we should be grateful she gives a verbal assent before they kiss.

Mia cheats on tests, leaves the house without her parents knowing where she’s going fairly often, and gets medical treatment (acupuncture) for a made-up condition without parental permission.  In particular the last one seemed weird – I didn’t believe her mother would forbid acupuncture based on what we know about her.

The end of the book has to do with the cat Mango’s death, which not only is given away in some of the online synopses, but is also heavily foreshadowed throughout the entire novel.  The dramatic scene felt over-the-top to me, but is probably just right for MG readers.

The mysticism was also a bit much.  Mia believes her cat is a partial reincarnation of her beloved grandfather’s soul and her siblings are into all sorts of superstition and unusual beliefs.  But when Mia starts seeing other people’s auras, they were clouding the main point.  While there are synthesetes who do experience that, I was uncomfortable with the way it was portrayed like a superpower that could be turned on through acupuncture.
End of Spoilers!

I was a little confused about the author’s intent with the age.  Eighth grade is one of the toughest groups to write about since high schoolers tend to be repulsed by any book about a middle school student, while the content is less likely to appeal to, or be appropriate for, younger students.  Mango definitely fell into this category.  I could certainly see an individual fourth grader or ninth grader reading and enjoying it, but the latter would probably never pick this up, and the content is mature for most fourth graders.

One of the strongest points was a realistic portrayal of friendships.  In particular Mia’s friend, whose mother died of cancer before the book takes place, makes this book an important mirror for that (larger) group as well.  I also appreciated that, although she was using the computer mostly unsupervised, it was made clear that Mia’s family had safety precautions and she asked permission at several points.

Overall, this book was okay.  It will appeal to the target audience, and it won’t hurt MG students to learn about synesthesia, read about the loss of loved ones, and debate who likes who.  But this isn’t likely to have a wider appeal.  Synesthesia is much more widely known than 15 years ago when this was published, which also means there is less urgency for this book to be read by the general public.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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