Wednesday, March 26, 2014

MG Book Review: A Mango-Shaped Space

A few years ago I decided to dabble in writing for children, and have since completed both a middle-grade and YA novel. While studying the marketplace for the submission process, I’ve discovered numerous new authors and books, and I’m not ashamed to say I often use my 10-year-old daughter Mia as a test subject for books I think look interesting (the girl devours books, so it’s not like I have to twist her arm or anything). I think I can take credit for turning her onto author Wendy Mass. We were browsing the book selection at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore one afternoon and I found a paperback called 11 Birthdays that I thought she might like. My daughter hedged at first because she was sort of in a reading rut and wasn’t interested in checking out a new author, but the book was only 50 cents so she finally agreed.

Can I just say she is now obsessed with all things Wendy Mass? I truly believe that because of this author Mia is now more interested in novels featuring magical realism and fantasy. She’s read the entire Willow Falls series, Rebecca’s Stead’s When You Reach Me,  The Lightning Thief, and she even finished up the classic A Wrinkle inTime a few weeks ago. I am officially one proud writer mama.

Mia first read about A Mango-Shaped Space when researching other Wendy Mass novels and tracked it down at our local library. Once she finished it, she couldn’t stop discussing the main character’s synesthesia (what?) and begged me to read it so we could talk about it.  I finally agreed after she kept leaving it on my desk. 

I’ve been to writing workshops and listened to agents and editors talk about the importance of a compelling hook. Well, let me tell you, this book has all that and more. The fact that the main character's name is Mia probably didn't hurt, either.

A Mango-Shaped Space
Mia Winchell has synesthesia, the mingling of perceptions whereby a person can see sounds, smell colors, or taste shapes. Forced to reveal her condition, she must look to herself to develop an understanding and appreciation of her gift in this coming-of-age novel.

I had honestly never heard of synesthesia before, and it makes for a great storyline. The reader is hooked from the first paragraph of the prologue, and you feel compassion for the main character, Mia, who feels she has to hide her special gift to avoid being teased and called a freak by her classmates. Not only that, but she has a very special cat, Mango, who also struggles with a physical ailment, which strengthens their bond. Because she is struggling in school, Mia eventually comes clean about the fact that all the letters and numbers she sees are associated with specific colors and is relieved when she learns there is a name behind it. With the help of her parents, she begins working with an expert in the field of synesthesia and joins an online support group.

The book has all the hallmarks of a great middle-grade story—conflict with a best friend, a love interest or two, misunderstood siblings, and sadly, dealing with the loss of a pet. A Mango-Shaped Space really touched me as a parent and caused me to shed a tear or two by the end. I simply could not put it down.

Have you read any worthwhile middle-grade novels recently? I’d love to hear what others are reading!

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