A Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass

It’s probably clear by now that many fantasy books have shaped my reading tastes. Indeed, my bookshelf is still chock-full of fantastic works about fantastic worlds. But A Mango-Shaped Space, a piece of realistic fiction, is different—it’s special.

A Mango-Shaped Space was the first book that I remember made me cry. And I don’t just mean small little tears, no—I mean, like, using up half a box of tissue, blowing my nose, and my mom peeking into my room asking if I was okay. It’s quite a distinct picture: me, sitting in my childhood room, surrounded by bubble-gum magazine posters of boy bands and Disney Channel celebrities, experiencing grief, first crushes, self-discovery, and other coming-of-age adventures in one book. It’s almost like a time capsule of being thirteen.

All right, so what’s the big deal about this book? First, the summary.

A Mango-Shaped Space - Wikipedia

13-year-old Mia Winchell has always seen shapes and colors when she thinks of different words, and it makes her feel quite different from her family and classmates. When her colors make school particularly difficult, she is forced to find out what these colors really mean. Mia finds that she actually has synesthesia: the parts of her brain dealing with sensory processing are crossed, so things like taste, hearing, and smell literally have color. But learning about her condition is only the beginning of Mia’s incredible journey of self-discovery…

Do any of you know what synesthesia is? Well, my pitiful sum-up doesn’t do it justice. It sounds less like a disability and more like an amazing superpower. And Mia does have several incredible sensory experiences as a result of her condition. This book truly finds the beauty in it, while also acknowledging that it does also present several obstacles, like Mia having trouble with math or Spanish.

Mia’s condition is the catalyst for a pretty intense journey into adulthood. She runs into tensions with her best friend, Jenna; she is still mourning the loss of her grandfather; and she even has to navigate crushes on guys. It can be tricky to navigate all these coming-of-age tropes, but the story does so with grace and respect to its teenage characters. They all do feel like teenagers, with that great mix of vulnerability and fierce independence.

Plus, Mia is ridiculously easy to relate to! She is a middle child who sometimes feels neglected between her two weird siblings, and people are quick to judge her condition. Even her own parents, at first, treat Mia’s synesthesia like something to be eliminated. Mia is an independent girl, but she still hasn’t found her way yet, and people telling her how to feel about her condition does not make it any easier.

All Mia wants to do is have her say in her own condition, and she does not get many opportunities to do so. You’re pretty much in her corner for the whole book.

Plainly put, Mia’s journey is extraordinarily well done. Nothing feels forced or saccharine, and it takes you right back to all the adventures and misadventures of being thirteen.

Obviously, I shall not spoil what about this book made me cry so much, but it’s one of the reasons I come back to this book. It’s a cozy, tender time capsule of childhood, but it also makes you feel very deeply. If you’re in the mood for a nostalgic adventure that gently tugs the heartstrings, it’s basically perfect.

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