Liana’s Literary Commentary – A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

Liana Teixeira

Mia Winchell may seem like a normal 13-year-old girl, but she has been harboring a secret her entire life.  Mia has synesthesia, a condition in which sounds, words, tastes, and numbers appear in colors to her mind.  In the novel’s prologue, Mia describes an incident in the third grade when she was asked to do a math problem on the board.  She began using different colored chalk to write the equation because that was the only way she was able to understand it.  However, her teacher believed she was goofing around and explained that numbers do not have colors.  After this confrontation, Mia realizes that no one else sees her colors and decides to keep this hidden from her friends and family.

While growing up, Mia’s grandfather unexpectedly passes away; while visiting his grave, she spots a cat lingering nearby.  She adopts the cat, believing that a part of her grandfather’s soul is living in the cat, and calls him Mango, because his meows appear in shades of orange and yellow.  Mango plays a vital role in Mia’s live throughout the entire story.

Mia has become an expert in hiding her synesthesia from her family, but everything changes when she meets a five-year-old boy named Billy Henkle in the supermarket; he comments to Mia that her name is orange with purple stripes, but Billy’s mother swiftly corrects him, telling Mia that her son has an overactive imagination.  Mia finally realizes that she is not alone, and that other people can see what she sees.

After failing multiple math quizzes at school, Mia is forced to explain her condition to her parents.  At first, they send Mia to a psychotherapist who simply implies that Mia is imagining the colors as a way of gaining attention from her peers and family.  However, Mia is later recommended to a neurologist who diagnoses her colors as synesthesia.

Soon, Mia is introduced to other synesthetes at a meeting, some of which are her own age.  Mia begins to learn more about her colors, and how this makes her a unique individual.  At the climax of the novel, a traumatic event causes Mia to temporarily lose her synesthesia.  It is at this point that Mia truly reflects on herself and the ways she views the world around her.

I would recommend this book to all readers.  It is a heartwarming tale that can relate to anyone if you look hard enough.  While everyone may not have synesthesia, A Mango-Shaped Space emphasizes the importance of individuality and learning how to discover one’s character in the midst of chaos.