A Mango-Shaped Space Read online

  Copyright © 2003 by Wendy Mass

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

  Hachette Book Group

  237 Park Avenue

  New York, NY 10017

  Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroup.com

  First eBook Edition: November 2008

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Quote from The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey. Used with permission.

  The Warner Books name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  ISBN: 978-0-316-04869-9

  The text was set in Janson Text, and the display type is Providence Sans.




  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Author’s Note


  For Joseph, who is new

  For my grandparents, who are not

  And in memory of Merlin



  I’ll never forget the first time I heard the word, that day at the blackboard. It was five years ago, when I was eight. (For those who are mathematically challenged, like me, that means I’m thirteen now.) So there I was, dressed in my shepherd-girl costume for the Christmas play after school, struggling to complete the math problem on the board while my fellow third-graders watched. The one-size-fits-all costume didn’t fit me, the shortest shepherd in the class, so I had to keep pushing up the sleeves. The chalk dust tickled my nose. My feet were freezing in the sandals that in my humble opinion no one should have to wear in northern Illinois in the middle of December. My mission was to multiply twenty-four times nine. I remember thinking that if I wrote slowly enough, the bell might ring before I could finish. Just five more minutes. Then no one would know that I couldn’t solve the problem.

  I rolled the smooth piece of chalk around my fingers and tried not to think about the whole class staring at my back. Glancing around in what I hoped looked like intense concentration, I noticed a few fragments of colored chalk on the ledge of the board. To use up some time, I put down the white piece and began rewriting each number on the board in its correct color.


  My teacher, Mrs. Lowe, startled me. As I turned, the chalk screeched on the board and a deep-red zigzag shape sped across my field of vision. My classmates groaned at the noise. “This isn’t art class,” she said, wagging her long, skinny finger at me as if I didn’t know that. “Just use the white chalk.”

  “But isn’t it better to use the right colors?” I asked, confident that the other kids would agree.

  The class giggled and I grinned, thinking they were laughing at her, not me.

  “What do you mean, the right colors?” she asked, sounding genuinely confused and more than a little annoyed. Now I became confused. Wasn’t it obvious what I meant? I looked at my classmates for help, but now their expressions had changed. They gawked at me as if I had suddenly sprouted another head. My hands started to shake a little, and I rushed out my explanation.

  “The colors. The colors of the numbers, you know, like the two is pink, well of course it’s not really this shade of pink, more like cotton-candy pink, and the four is this baby-blanket blue color, and I … I just figured it would be easier to do the math problem with the numbers in the correct colors. Right?” I pleaded with my classmates — my friends — to back me up.

  This time when the class laughed it didn’t sound so friendly. I felt my cheeks burning. Then I heard it. In a loud whisper from the back row. Freak. Except it sounded like FREEEEK.

  “What are you talking about, Mia?” demanded my now clearly irate teacher. “Numbers don’t have colors, they simply have a shape and a numerical value, that’s all.”

  “But they have all those things,” I whispered, my voice sounding far away.

  Mrs. Lowe put her hands on her hips. “I’ve had enough of this. For the last time, numbers do not have colors. Now, are you going to complete the assignment?”

  I stared at her and shook my head. I suddenly felt very small, as if my skin was tightening and I was actually shrinking. A whirring sound filled my head. How was this possible? Was everyone playing a trick on me? Of course numbers had colors. Were they also going to tell me that letters and sounds didn’t have colors? That the letter a wasn’t yellow like a faded sunflower and screeching chalk didn’t make red jagged lines in the air? I replaced the chalk on the ledge, aware for the first time that my hands shake when I’m nervous. I stood with my arms at my sides, sleeves hanging halfway to my knees. Was I the only one who lived in a world full of color? I waited to see if they were going to tell me the earth was flat.

  A badly constructed paper airplane wobbled past my nose.

  Mrs. Lowe sent me to Principal Dubner’s office, where I repeated my explanation for using the colored chalk. By the time my parents arrived an hour later, I’d run out of steam. I sat there and listened to them talk about my “uncharacteristic behavior.” I wanted to tell the principal that his name was the color of freshly piled hay. I quickly thought better of it. Even at eight years old, I was smart enough to realize that something was very wrong and that until I figured out what it was, I’d better not get myself in deeper trouble.

  So I pretended I made everything up. I sat there and said things like “It was stupid,” “I was only playing around.” And, at least twenty times, “I’m sorry.”

  The principal left me in the hands of my parents, who brought me home. I promptly kicked off the stupid sandals, threw on my sneakers, and took off running through the fields behind my house. The cold didn’t bother me. I was too busy brooding over the unfairness of it all.

  The Christmas play was short one shepherd girl.

  Mrs. Lowe made me clean the erasers for a week and apologize in front of the whole class for taking up their time with my nonsense. Those were her words, not mine.

  Pretty soon, everyone forgot about that day. Everyone but me. I learned to guard my secret well. But now I’m thirteen. Everything is about to change.

  And there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

  Chapter One

  “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs,” says my best friend, Jenna Davis, as we climb farther down into the steep, parched ravine. We’ve been inseparable since we were five and her mother brought her to my house to play. We bonded over the various ways we could contort my Barbie and Ken dolls without breaking them. Let’s just say that Ken won’t be having children anytime soon and leave it at that.

  “B is for Basil, assaulted by bears,” I reply, continuing the morbid rhyme we memorized off the poster on my bedroom wall. Each letter of the alphabet has a rhyme about a little kid meeting some bizarre end. I like the poster because it is in black and white to everyone else, but inside my head, it’s in color.

  “Could it be any hotter out?” Jenna asks, panting with the effort to keep her footing on the slippery slope.

  The sweat dripping down my face is enough of an answer. August has rolled around too soon,