Bourke's Bookshelf: ‘Lost in shades of gray’

This week's featured read is "A Mango-Shaped Space' by Wendy Mass.

Phone with audiobook graphic, mug, glass cat
This week's featured read is "A Mango-Shaped Space" by Wendy Mass.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

As I near the age of 30, I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever outgrow my love of young adult novels. But the more I read, the more I hope I don’t.

Theresa Bourke headshot

When asked about my favorite authors, I always put John Green in the mix. “The Fault in Our Stars” was one of the first books that made me sob. I don’t just mean tearing up or getting sniffly, but outright sobbing. I was in college when I read it, probably around the time the movie came out. My roommate had asked to borrow the book after I finished it, and I distinctly remember walking into her room and telling her through tears to “just take it.”

“The Fault in Our Stars” had a profound impact on me when I was 20 years old, and most other young adult books I’ve read since (John Green or otherwise) have as well. There are always life lessons that I think are just as important to hear as an older adult, even if they were meant for teens. Obstacles like mental illness, racism, loss or grief aren’t unique to young people. We all have to overcome something at some point, and what better way to understand our own struggles than to realize we’re not alone and see how others deal with the same thing.

OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now and stop trying to convince you young adult books are fantastic for a larger demographic than the name implies and get on to reviewing the latest gem I’ve found.

‘A Mango-Shaped Space’ by Wendy Mass (2003)

It wasn’t until third grade that Mia Winchell realized she was different from the rest of her classmates. Up until that point, she thought it was totally normal to see colors and shapes when hearing words and other sounds. But when she tries to explain that to her classmates, teacher and parents, she realizes others don’t share her abilities.


So she keeps it bottled up. Not even her best friend knows what Mia considers her biggest secret. Everyone assumes Mia named her cat “Mango” because of his orange eyes, but in reality it’s because of the mango-colored haze she sees and associates with that cat’s wheezy breathing.

Kildegaard, who is visiting Central Lakes College Monday, March 27, is a Minnesota poet and director of the Honors Program at the University of Minnesota-Morris.
This week's featured read is "Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee.
This week's featured read is "The Irish Boarding House by Sandy Taylor."

But it’s clear something needs to be said when Mia starts eighth grade and her colors make subjects like math and Spanish incredibly difficult. It’s time to be honest with her parents and figure out what’s going on.

That’s when Mia learns she has synesthesia, a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sense leads to automatic experiences with a second one. So while Mia associates shapes and colors with certain words and sounds, other synesthetes might have similar experiences when tasting something. Not only is Mia not crazy and not dying from a brain aneurysm, she’s also not alone. There are other people like her, and she quickly starts researching the condition and connecting with others who have synesthesia.

But just when Mia thinks having these answers will solve all her problems, other bits of her life start falling apart in rapid succession. It’s going to take a little bit of time and a lot of love and support for the young teen to get through what might be the hardest part of her life to date.

I didn’t bawl my eyes out, but a few stray tears found their way down my cheeks as I remembered how serious every problem feels when we’re young and how lonesome it can be, feeling like no one around you knows what you’re going through. Mia’s problems felt like my problems, and her struggles felt all too real.

“A Mango-Shaped Space” reminded me we all need to be kind and give ourselves a little grace because we’re all human and just doing the best that we can, navigating through this crazy thing called life.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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