Ever since getting teased about it in third grade, Mia has hidden her special ability, afraid of being called weird or accused of lying- because she sees colors in association with numbers and letters, sometimes also with sounds and other stimuli. But eventually some things become overwhelmingly difficult- especially math, as the number/color association interferes with her ability to combine and rearrange number units logically. She finally tells her family the issue- at first her parents are disbelieving, then they take her to the doctor, then to a psychiatrist. She veers between feeling that there’s something wrong with her that needs fixing, and reveling in the realization that other people have the same sensations. Meeting others with synesthesia at a conference is eye-opening. Now she’s so thrilled with her ability she finds ways to deliberately stimulate it- at the cost of paying attention to those around her, focusing on schoolwork, etc. There has to be a balance, but it takes a tragedy to shock her into finding it.
The main character’s synesthesia isn’t the only part of the plot, although of course it is her main focus. There’s other things going on in the background. Her older sister comes home from California with a new interest in healing herbs, yoga, and other things of a New Age vibe. Her brother teases her about boys, there’s ongoing ups and downs with both her best friend and other more casual friends at school, struggles with school projects, and an ongoing thread of grief. When the book opens her grandfather has just died, and she believes that part of his soul resides in her cat named Mango. Mango himself has an ongoing health issues, and at the end Mai has to face loss yet again. Yes, SPOILER the cat dies. The one detail in the family life I found a bit strange was that her dad owned a helicopter. Sure it made the ending a bit dramatic, but couldn’t they just as well have been getting ready to desperately drive somewhere in the car? I just found the helicopter thing a bit overkill when it didn’t really seem to have a reason to be in the story. And the whole thing about the acupuncturist also baffled me. I can’t imagine any kid nowadays being able to so easily arrange that kind of thing behind their parents’ backs. The results were really spectacular, though! (And according to another reviewer, a real phenomenon).
This was a really interesting book. I don’t think I ever read one about someone with synesthesia before, and I really appreciated the descriptions of what it is like, the different ways people experience it, and how they can learn to handle it (making the sensations less distracting or overwhelming). The book was written quite a while ago (apparent to me by the family computer situation, prevalence of chat sites and slow email communication, using the landline to call your friend and having a family member pick up on the line from another room- ha! I remember those days) so I do wonder if treatment or understanding of the condition is different now.
Borrowed from the public library.