54 pages 1 hour read

Wendy Mass

A Mango-Shaped Space

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2003

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Understanding Oneself

The primary theme of A Mango-Shaped Space is the process of understanding oneself through personal exploration. At the beginning of the story, Mia has a limited understanding of herself as an individual, largely because she does not know why she sees her colors. Her synesthesia is part of her daily life, but it is also a mystery and a source of shame. Mia starts the process of understanding oneself when she meets Billy in the supermarket and realizes for the first time that her experiences may not be entirely unique.

A major turning point for Mia comes when she meets Jerry and learns that there is a name for her experiences. Jerry affirms for Mia that synesthesia is her “normal way of perceiving the world” (97). She is not making things up for attention, she does not have a brain tumor, and she is not a “freak”—an evocative term that punctures the theme of understanding oneself. Mia’s exploration of the synesthesia web forum and her interest in getting acupuncture are both expressions of her ongoing desire to better understand herself. Having found the label “synesthete,” she holds onto it and starts to build her identity around it. 

For a while, synesthesia remains a useful vehicle for self-understanding in the novel.