Wednesday, November 23, 2011
If you follow my blog, then you know that I'm a huge fan of middle grade author Wendy Mass. I've read and reviewed quite a few of her books over the years. In fact, I count a few of her books (like THE CANDYMAKERS and JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE) as some of my all-time favorite tween reads. I was even fortunate enough to meet Ms Mass awhile back when she was touring for THE CANDYMAKERS.
It's evident that our current mother/daughter book club agrees because we've already read three of Ms. Mass' novels for our discussions and we've only been meeting for a little over a year. I think it's safe to say that we all consider her one of our favorite writers. So when our November hosts announced that they wanted to read A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE, I was thrilled! I had not read this book before, but it has always been on my "list" and I had heard so many wonderful things about it.
So last week (when I was in a major reading rut), I decided to put aside the very long book that I was reading and pick up A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE in preparation for our monthly meeting. And, I just have to tell you that it was exactly what I needed to escape from the world for a few hours. A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE did not disappoint and I just loved this book! (But that's not a surprise considering Wendy Mass wrote it!)
A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE tells the story of Mia, a tween who has been keeping a pretty big secret. She has synesthesia -- a condition where she sees color for letters, sounds and numbers. As she reveals her secret, she begins to feel very isolated from her family and friends. In addition, she begins to learn about her condition, and at the same time, meet people who understand her. However, when Mia loses something very special to her, she realizes what really matters in her life.
I hardly even know where to start discussing the book because there are just too many wonderful things about it. First of all, I loved Mia and I enjoyed being introduced to synesthesia. I had read another middle grade book in which the character had the same condition (THE NAME OF THIS BOOK IS SECRET), but I didn't really "get" it until I read A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE. I am just fascinated by synesthesia and this novel actually encouraged me to do a little research into it. It is a fascinating phenomenon!
As interesting as this book was, I loved it for many other reasons. First and foremost, I loved that this book explored so many relevant tween issues. While most kids do not have conditions as drastic as synesthesia, I have no doubt that they will relate to Mia. I'm willing to bet that most tweens do feel very different from their peers and I think many are probably keeping secrets from their families and friends -- just like Mia. This book also explore family relationships, especially mother/daughter ones, as well as the ups and downs of tween friendships. In addition, it delves into loss and grief which many children experience for the first time during their tween years.
In many ways, A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE was a coming-of-age novel -- and I do love coming-of-age stories. Throughout the course of the novel, Mia was on a personal journey to discover herself. At times she appeared caught up in herself (even at the expense of others) and I so think tweens can understand those feelings. I also loved how much Mia evolved by the end of this story (and I chose to think she even continued to grow ever after the last page!) Mia learned to embrace her gift (and differences) while at the same time appreciating others. It's a valuable lesson in growing up, and I liked that this novel gave an honest look at the difficulties in the pre-teen years.
Needless to say, I thought A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE was a wonderful book club pick. There are a number of things to discuss and our girls did a great job touching upon many of them. There is an excellent educator's guide which is a great tool to enhance your reading, and there's even some thought-provoking discussion questions. Some of the topics you might want to explore include friendship, secrets, family dynamics, crushes, self-awareness, honestly, grief and loss.
A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE is a very special middle grade novel. I adored it and can't recommend it enough!
Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel.