A Mango-Shaped Space was the first of four full books I read over the Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon period. I almost always try and use events like these to get through some of the older books on my TBR pile and this was no exception. In fact, the receipt tucked inside my copy tells me that I’ve owned this book since March 2012… well, I won’t be owning it for much longer, that’s safe to say.
Plot summary: Mia Winchell has synesthesia, the mingling of perceptions whereby a person can see sounds, smell colors, and 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.
Good thing that’s not a vague blurb or anything… But yes, basically, Mia has synesthesia, a condition thought to include Van Vogh and David Hockney as sufferors (and also allegedly Kanye West, but never mind that). I can sort of understand this as, while I don’t see colours, I do associate them with certain things/people and can get quite stressed out when real life doesn’t always conform. But I’ll leave this train of thought here before I get angry comments telling me that OCD isn’t the same as synesthesia (a fact of which I am very aware).
I do have a soft spot for novels about mental health. The Shock of the Fall was one of the best books I’ve read all year and I completely fell in love with The Silver Linings Playbook. However, you’ll note that both those books are aimed at adult readers and A Mango-Shaped Space most definitely is not. The language is very simple, but that’s fine as it’s aimed at younger readers and I got used to that after a few pages anyway.
The problem is how easy the whole thing is. Mia decides for no apparent reason to mention her difficulties to her parents after thirteen years of not doing so and then has a diagnosis within three days? Yeeeeeah, I don’t think so. I understand that middle-grade books are always going to have simpler plots than adult novels and that it’s trying to reinforce talking to your parents about your struggles… but I feel it’s setting children up to believe that mental health diagnoses are instant. I just don’t want children to feel that its all in their heads etc. when they’re told that there’s nothing wrong with them (which they invariably will be).
*breathes* Issues? Who, me?
The other slightly role-modely issue with A Mango-Shaped Space is that I’m preeeeeeeetty (read: absolutely and completely) sure that synesthesia doesn’t allow sufferors to guess people’s moods or tell whether people are lying. Wow, that’s insulting. I was flabberghasted and I don’t even have it. I mean, what is this book aiming for? ‘Oh, I thought I had this because I can see music and taste sounds… but oh no, I can’t have. I’m not additionally and randomly psychic, so there goes that idea.’
I can’t wait to tell them about the acupuncture, which, cool as it was, did get to be pretty distracting. But if my abilities had been stronger tonight, I would have been able to see exactly what Adam was feeling when he kissed me. That could have been useful.
ARGH. Even if I agree to let the use of the word ‘abilities’ go, you would not have been able to see how he felt, regardless of how strong your symptoms are. You have an illness; you are not one of the X-Men.
Mia’s also kind of a cowbag. While I did want her to get better, I liked her in absolutely no way at all. She’s a horrible little primadonna. At one point she goes all mental about the fact that she boiled some pasta to go with some salad her mother made, and nobody thanked her for the salad. Really!? Did you thank your Mum for making the salad? Did you thank her the 56,000 times she’s made you pasta!? And just like that I’ve realised why I rarely read contemporary YA- because I almost always side with the parents.
I appreciate what this book is trying to do, kind of. Synesthesia is rarely heard of and it must be comforting for children to have a novel they can read for reassurance that they’re not crazy. The problem is a) it’s more about a girl who happens to have synesthesia while she grieves over her deceased grandfather, and b) I really feel like it might give them the wrong end of the stick. Synesthesia makes you a mind-reader, remember?