A Mango-Shaped Space (2003) is a young adult novel by Wendy Mass. The plot centers around Mia Winchell, a thirteen-year-old girl living with synesthesia, a jumbling of the senses: Words and sounds have color for her. Her synesthesia causes her problems in school, with friends, and winning the understanding of her parents and peers. The book received the American Library Association Schneider Family Book Award in 2004. It has since been nominated for, and received, a number of other awards. The hand lettering for the cover is by Billy Kelly. The book is recommended for grades 5-8. A 7 hours long audiobook version, narrated by Danielle Ferland, has been produced.
In a prologue, Mia first experiences ridicule at the hands of her third-grade classmates when she is called to the front of the room to do a math problem. She uses colored chalk to make the numbers fit into the synesthetic form she sees. Her teacher tells her to stop making up silly stories and that numbers have only shape and value and no colors. Mia is left confused and alone, because she thought everyone saw letters and colors the same way. After that, Mia keeps her synesthesia a secret and her classmates forget about the incident.
When Mia is twelve, her beloved grandfather is gravely sick. He later passes from a deadly disease known as chemiosmosis. On her grandfather's grave, Mia finds a white and grey kitten with eyes the same color as her grandfather's. She believes that part of her grandfather's soul is living in that kitten. She takes him home and names him Mango the Magnificent; not because of his orange eyes, but because his meows and his heavy wheezing are different shades of orange to her, like a mango in different seasons. The wheezes are actually caused by a deep rip in the lining of one of Mango's lungs, which cannot be repaired, but Mango copes with it by taking pills.
One day, when Mia is at the grocery store with her mother, she meets someone who could very well share her condition: a 5-year-old boy named Billy Henkle, who sees her name as orange with purple stripes. Mia is shocked, but his mother quickly retorts that he has an overactive imagination.
After failing two math quizzes, she is forced to admit to her parents about her condition. Mia's father sets up an appointment to her pediatrician Dr. Randolph. Her mother takes Mia to Dr. Randolph, who recommends her to a psychotherapist.
After her appointment, Mia tells her best friend Jenna Davis about her colors. Jenna bursts into tears and gets angry at her for not telling her before. Jenna runs away and, out of anger, stops talking to Mia. At her psychotherapist appointment Mia is told that her colors are just her imagination, and she has "middle child syndrome" and made up the colors to get attention. Mia denies it. The psychotherapist suggests that Mia go to a neurologist to see what is wrong with her.
The next day, Mia visits Jenna and apologizes for not telling her before. Jenna also apologizes for being angry. Jenna explains that she was worried about her and tells her that she had an experience when someone she really cared about was sick, referring to her mother, who died of cancer three years before. Jenna tells Mia that when she was still angry with her she told Kimberly-one of their school friends and a gossip-about Mia's colors. Mia becomes well-known at school because of her synesthesia.
When Mia visits the neurologist she finds out what case she has. She has synesthesia, a condition where senses are connected, such as your hearing and sight or smell and touch, though it could be any two. Mia's own forms of synesthesia are grapheme-color synesthesia, which means she sees numbers and letters in color, sound-color synthesis, meaning each sound has an accompanying shape and color, and finally spatial sequence synesthesia, or seeing numerical sequences with different amounts of depth. Then the neurologist invites Mia to a meeting for synesthetes in a few weeks and gives her the address of a website that allows people with synesthesia to interact with each other. After only one day, another synesthete, a boy named Adam, shows interest in interacting with Mia. Adam is a year older than her. Mia becomes obsessed with her email, constantly seeing if there are any emails from Adam. One night she gets a call from Adam, saying he is going to the synesthesia meeting too. Mia also reads articles on the website. One lady reports that acupuncture brings very brilliant colors. Mia tries this out, and she enjoys it, constantly asking when her next appointment is. Mia then looks forward to acupuncture and the meeting.
During the meeting, Adam appears very gentlemanly, kissing her hand and inviting her outside for a walk. During the "walk", Adam asks if he can kiss her, to which she says yes. She kisses him once, and she almost does again, but then her mom finds her outside with him, and says they need to leave, obviously in an angry tone. Mia thinks about Adam for a while, and wonders if he should be her boyfriend.
Because she is so preoccupied with her condition and life, Mia accidentally forgets to give Mango a pill before she goes to sleep, perhaps several days in a row. She wakes up early one morning to find him outside, not breathing. She convinces her dad to fly him to the animal hospital in their helicopter, but it is already too late, and Mango dies, making Mia terribly sad. After Mango dies, Mia is traumatized and her colors disappear temporarily, a natural thing that synesthetes experience when something tragic happens. She feels guilty and believes that Mango's death is her fault, although her family constantly tells her that she did not kill Mango. Her father tells her he knew, almost, that Mango was ready to go when he stopped eating. Meanwhile, Adam emails her saying that even though he is sorry about her cat, she still should have come to the second meeting she missed and that he wants to kiss her again. She realizes that he does not care about her, and regrets kissing him. The next day at school, Mia realizes a boy named Roger, who has always been nice to her, really likes her and she decides to befriend him. She also realizes that Roger shares her grief, because his beloved dog had to be put down, and that he is color blind, making him quite the opposite from Mia.
Soon, Billy Henkle, the boy that she met at the grocery store who shares her condition, visits and Mia is able to offer him the help that she never received when she was young. Mia's mother also realizes that her mother was a synesthete like Miz and recalls a memory of the two of them (Mia and her grandmother) talking about their colours when Mia was 2. Mia then realizes that she has to move on to be able to help other synesthetes. Her colors return and she finally accepts Mango's fate, believing he is with her Grandpa now.
Later, at a Hanukkah party, Mia finds a kitten that looks exactly like Mango, which turns out to be Mango's son. The cat's purrs are mustard yellow according to her synesthesia, causing her to name him Mustard. Mia does not want to replace Mango yet, so she does not want Mustard because all of those kittens were Mango's son and she didn't want to only take one of the kittens.
The next morning, Mia wakes from a dream to find mustard haze around her, ending the book and letting the readers indirectly know that she probably adopts Mustard in the end.nominated for a 2008 Audie Award (for the audiobook version)
received the 2004 Schneider Family Book Award in the middle-grade category by the American Library Association.
received the 2005 Great Lakes Great Book Award from the state of Michigan
named in the 2004 YA Top 40 by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association
nominated for the 2005 New Hampshire’s Great Stone Face Award
nominated for the Iowa Teen Award for
nominated for the 2006 Virginia’s Young Reader Award
nominated for the Nevada Young Readers’ Award
nominated for the Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Award
nominated for the South Carolina Young Adult Book Award 2006-2007
VOYA Top Shelf selection 2003
autumn 2003 Children’s BookSense 76 pick
listed as a 2004 & 2005 New York Public Library’s Best Books for the Teen Age
Bank Street Books top 35 children’s books of the last 35 years
Critical reception has been mixed. A Mango-Shaped Space has received reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, School Library Journal, VOYA, Washington Post, Kliatt, and Publishers Weekly. Booklist praised that "the...narration lends immediacy and impact to Mia's color perceptions...a quietly unusual and promising offering". Publishers Weekly commented that the book has "well-defined characterizations, natural-sounding dialogue, and concrete imagery". The School Library Journal wrote "not all of the many characters are necessary to the story, and some of the plot elements go unresolved", and "Mia's parents are almost too perfect". Kirkus Reviews criticized that "the narrative...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", and stated that this "flaw" is "not unusual with first novels". Kliatt criticized the plot, saying it isn't "half as interesting" as the "information on this rare condition". Kliatt also commented on Mia's "ups and downs", saying they are "fairly ordinary". VOYA pointed out that this book is "probably not one that teens will pick up without coaxing".
The audiobook was criticized by School Library Journal, who states that "narrator Danielle Ferland moves from character to character effortlessly, but without much deviation in voice inflections for the secondary players". On the other hand, AudioFile praised the work, saying it "brings alive a unique young person and her rare gift".
A Mango-Shaped Space has been praised by several authors, including Paula Danziger, Karen Cushman, and Meg Cabot.2003, USA, Little, Brown, and Company (ISBN 978-0-316-52388-2), Pub date April 2003, hardback (first edition)
2005, USA, Little, Brown, and Company (ISBN 978-0-316-05825-4), Pub date October 2005, paperback