Thirteen year old Mia isn’t like everyone else. For her, words, numbers, and sounds have color. It’s all around her, all of the time - as if being thirteen isn’t hard enough already. When Mia starts struggling in school, she realizes that there has to be more to her than just not being “normal.” A Mango-Shaped Space is a heartwarming novel about fitting in, being different, and embracing what makes you unique. It’s a wonderful addition to any middle school library, as students will love learning all about Mia and what makes her so special.
When Mia Winchell was in the third grade, she was trying to solve a math problem on the board and was getting jumbled and confused because all of the numbers had colors and she couldn’t focus. Thinking that everyone lived this way, she told the teacher and the whole class laughed, calling her a freak. Mia learned to keep her secret to herself, for fear of being made fun of even more. Not even her best friend Jenna knows. Mia keeps to herself a lot and finds comfort in her adorable cat, Mango, whom she found at her grandfather’s funeral. She truly believes her grandfather sent him from heaven.
When school begins again, Mia struggles a great deal in math and is failing her tests and quizzes; it’s just too difficult to understand the numbers when the colors are everywhere. Mia finally tells her parents about the colors, and they take her to the doctor. After many appointments and a visit with a wonderful neurologist, Mia learns that she has what’s called synesthesia. This means that Mia’s senses intertwine, and she feels two things at once. She is not a “freak” -- she’s actually pretty amazing.
Her neurologist, Dr. Weiss, or Jerry, as he prefers to be called, tells Mia about a website for people with her condition. It is a community of people who share their stories and experiences with synesthesia. Mia becomes online friends with a boy named Adam, and feels comfort in knowing she is not alone. Mia also becomes friendly with Roger, a boy in her history project group, and he introduces her to acupuncture. After a few appointments, Mia’s senses are heightened and she even sees her own color. Meanwhile, Mango is not eating as much and appears tired all of the time. Mia begins to wonder if something is going on.
Lots of events happen as Thanksgiving approaches, including the town food drive and a meeting at a university in Chicago with all of the people from the synesthesia website, including Adam! Jenna’s thirteenth birthday party is also that weekend, but Mia isn’t too excited about going to that. The night after the first meeting at the university, Mia wakes up to find that Mango isn’t in his normal spot, curled up on her bed; there is simply a Mango shaped space where he usually lies. Mia opens the front door to find Mango shivering from the cold. She brings him in and warms him up, but the next morning he isn’t breathing. Mango has died and Mia’s whole world comes crashing down. The colors are gone, and she doesn’t even care. To make matters worse, Jenna gets mad at her for missing her party, not knowing that Mango has died.
Mia blames herself and falls deep into sadness. She learns that Adam isn’t a real friend and that Jenna is. She also learns that her grandmother, who died when Mia was young, most likely also had synesthesia, and this comforts Mia. Soon after, at a neighbor’s holiday party, Mia and her brother Zack see that their neighbor’s cat has had a litter of kittens; one of whom looks just like Mango. They realize that Mango must be the father, and Zack wants to keep one of them. Mia thinks it’s too soon, but that night she has a dream that tells her this kitten is meant to be hers.
A Mango-Shaped Space is a wonderful story about growing up, embracing our differences, and love. Perfect for small groups, class read alouds, and independent reading, it is a story that will touch the hearts of students and teachers of all ages.