Would you close your eyes, please? OK. Now when I say the name Eva, what comes to mind? Perhaps you know someone with that name and you think of her. Maybe you associate the name with Eve in the Bible, so you visualize the story in Genesis. Since this is a woman's name, you may picture a woman. Or, if you are like 4 % of the population, a color or design comes to mind first when you hear the name Eva.
You can open your eyes now.
If I write this black 7, most of us see a black seven. But some of us will see a number that is either male or female, perhaps with a personality. What do you see?
Some people might taste something whenever they hear the word wedding ring, for example. Perhaps a smoky flavor appears with the word, even though there is no logical association.
This trait, this "way that some people experience words or numbers," is called synesthesia.
When I first started reading this book, A Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass, I had never heard of synesthesia. This trait is a where two or more senses are joined or blurred somehow in the brain which gives a dimension to the words or numbers that most of us cannot experience.
We first meet the main character, Mia Winchell,when she is eight years old, standing in front of the class trying to work a math problem on the board. She was to multiply twenty-four times nine and she couldn't remember how to do it. So she decided to put the numbers up using colored chalk, in their correct colors. This moment began Mia's journey of self-discovery when she realized that not all people saw things the way she did.
My teacher, Mrs. Lowe, startled me...."Just use the white chalk."
But isn't it better to use the right colors?" I asked, confident that the other kids would agree.
The class giggled and I grinned, thinking they were laughing at her, not me.
"What do you mean, the right colors?" she asked, sounding genuinely confused and more than a little annoyed. Now I became confused. Wasn't it obvious what I meant? "The colors. The colors of the numbers, you know, like the two is pink, well of course it's not really this shade of pink, more like cotton-candy pink, and the four is this baby-blanket blue color,and I ...I just figured it would be easier to do the math problem with the numbers in the correct colors. Right?" I pleaded with my classmates - my friends- to back me up.
This time when the class laughed it didn't sound so friendly. I felt my cheeks burning. then I heard it. In a loud whisper from the back row. Freak. Except it sounded like FREEEEK.
"What are you talking about, Mia?" demanded my now clearly irate teacher. "Numbers don't have colors, they simply have a shape and a numerical value, that's all."
"But they have all those things," I whispered, my voice sounding far away.
Mrs. Lowe put her hands on her hips. "I've had enough of this. For the last time, numbers do not have colors. Now, are you going to complete the assignment?"
At that point Mia knew there was something unusual about her and she decided it was enough different that she should keep it to herself. That is, until she couldn't hide it anymore, and she found that there were others who were also born with this unusual trait.
A Mango-Shaped Space is a coming-of-age Young Adult fiction that illustrates many layers of a young girl's life: death, friendship, family dynamics, bullying, school, self acceptance and much more as Mia comes to accept herself and her experience as a person with synesthesia.
So if you see colors with your words, taste flavors with your numbers or find that sounds come with images, you might want to explore more about synesthesia. If not, this book will still leave you with characters to care about long after the last page is read.