Mia Winchell is 13 years old and she sees colors. Not just “the sky is blue and the grass is green” colors, but “a slamming door is brown and the sound of a violin is red” colors. Sounds, numbers and letters have always had colors for Mia, but she doesn’t talk about this with anyone. Ever since her classmates called her a freak for thinking the number 2 was pink and the number 4 was blue, the colors have been her own secret shame, her “personal brand of weirdness”, and the reason she can’t do math or learn Spanish.
Junior high, where every difference is pointed out and mocked, is hard enough as it is. What girl wants to be like, “Hey, guys, all of your names have different colors and when I listen to music it’s basically a one-woman laser light show”? Mia only feels comfortable around her cat, who’s named Mango not because of his orange eyes, but “because the sounds of his purrs and his wheezes and his meows are all various shades of yellow-orange.”
When Mia finally gets up the courage to tell her parents about the colors, they take her to a string of doctors. One thinks she has a brain tumor, one thinks she’s making it up for attention, and no one seems to know what’s going on. Then Mia finds Dr. Jerry Weiss, who explains to her that she’s not crazy after all. She just has synesthesia. It turns out there are synesthetes like her all over the world; other people associate colors and numbers, or tastes and sounds, or any other connection between senses. Mia finds out about websites, support groups, and a whole synesthesia community full of people like her. She can finally say, “All those people in their black-and-white worlds—they have no idea what they’re missing.”
Mia’s able to explore the new world of synesthesia, and it involves boys, baths, and some really trippy acupuncture. Even though Mia encounters tension in her family, fights with her friends, and a truly devastating loss, she comes to see her synesthesia as a gift, not a disease.
-Fun fact: Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov was a synesthete! He mentioned the condition pretty often in his writing, and his wife and son also had synesthesia. Unfortunately, Mia has a hard time reading anything (let alone Russian novelists), so this doesn’t help her much.
-Mia’s synesthesia helps her develop her artistic talent. When she listens to music, she’s able to paint the colors she sees and create artwork that reminds her of Kandinksy. Mia spends a lot of time worrying that her colors make her different or crazy, but actually her colors are part of what makes her special and talented.
-I don’t want to give you any spoilers, so I’ll refrain from details, but the ending of the book was very emotional for me. This is just my way of saying I cried. Again. Am I ever going to feature a book that doesn’t make me cry? Probably not. I give up.
My knowledge of synesthesia was pretty limited before reading this book, so I loved hearing Mia’s story. What about you–do you have synesthesia? Do you know anyone who does?
As always, let us know in the comments if there are any young adult books you’d like to see in the column!
Image via Goodreads