April 22, 2013 by Heidi
Title: One + One = Blue [Goodreads]
Author: MJ Auch [Website]
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Middle Grade; Contemporary
Published: April 30th, 2013 by Henry Holt
Format: Hardcover; 272 pages
Source: ARC from publisher
Twelve year-old Basil knows he’s special—he’s been associating numbers with colors since he was a kid. His gift (or curse) has turned him into somewhat of a loner, but his world begins to change when he meets Tenzie, the new girl in school who has similar freakisms. She, too, has synesthesia (a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another). At first, Basil is somewhat annoyed with Tenzie’s pushiness, but after Basil’s estranged mother returns, his life is turned upside down . . . and Tenzie may be the only person to help him put it back together again.
Once again, MJ Auch has written a thoughtful coming-of-age novel that explores friendship, family, and fitting in.
One + One = Blue was, for me, one of those unassuming titles that just happened to creep into my life at the perfect time. When I received it, I thought the cover and premise were cute, and that it’d be one of those nice little contemporary middle grade stories about friendship and bonding over your similar differences from the larger group. I’d probably think it was good, but it probably wouldn’t stick with me for any length of time because, really, it’s just another contemporary middle grade. But then, the day I happened to sit down to read One + One = Blue also happened to be a day that I was inwardly raging about bad parents who were a drain on their children’s lives, and several hours later I looked up having turned the last page, finding MJ Auch’s latest to be one of the most cathartic reading experiences I’d had in some time.
A blurb that is somewhat misleading, One + One = Blue appears to be a novel about children with synesthesia and the bond of friendship that is formed when you realize that someone shares your “freakism”. For me, it was hardly about friendship at all–it was more a book about family dynamics, and realizing that where one belongs does not always follow the most traditional sense of family. The kids involved, Basil and Tenzie, just happen to have synesthesia, a neurological condition in which senses get crossed resulting in a person’s ability to experience sounds in relation to movement, taste in relation to texture, or, in this case, color in relation to numbers. Synesthesia creates a bond between the two characters, a gift MJ Auch shares herself, highlighting a rare but fascinating and varied condition in a way that adds to the story but is recognizably not the story itself.
Basil is a deeply introverted young man whose best and only friend is his grandmother who has raised him since his mother abandoned him to seek success in Hollywood years previously. When the new girl at school, Tenzie, barges her way into his life unasked and uninvited, Basil is torn between the joy of having a friend, and the strings that come with it. To me, Tenzie was never really a good friend to Basil. Raised as an only child in a family that is constantly moving, Tenzie feels as neglected and ignored at home as Basil does outside of his, and as a result she latches on to Basil and his home life firmly. She is a character so concerned with her own problems, that she shows little understanding or regard for Basil’s, pushing him into situations from her own perspective without considering his.
It is this tendency perhaps, that forges a bond between Tenzie and Basil’s mother, Carly, when Carly returns to Basil and her mother’s home after years of not making it in Hollywood. Carly too, sees little beyond her own needs and desires, seeing her son as selfish for wanting her to have been part of his life all of these years past.
One + One = Blue was so cathartic for me because it showed the reality that sometimes people don’t grow and change. A lot of the time, things aren’t all going to be okay simply because two people share a bond of genetics, and that there needs to be more there. In my mind, children should come first in every parent’s life, no matter how having that child may set back personal goals you had once set for yourself. In a case such as Carly’s where she is too selfish to be a competent, stable, and loving parent, I am so grateful to see that Basil had a loving home in his grandmother. The bond that Tenzie felt for Carly was heartbreaking for me, as it reflected how even in the most traditional homes children can feel neglect, and the confusion that can arise between attention and affection.
I don’t think that One + One = Blue is a book that will speak to all readers, but it will speak greatly to a particular audience. This is an excellent book to put into the hands of any kid being raised in a non-traditional situation–the kids who are justifiably angry over their parents’ behavior. One + One = Blue helps to show that it is productive at times to accept a behavior and move on without dwelling or holding out hope for change. Alternatively, that it can be productive to begin a conversation about why a child is having difficulties at school or at home. It meant a lot to me on the day that I picked it up, and I know it will mean a lot to many young men and women who do the same.
I was very happy that MJ Auch included her gift of synesthesia in this novel through Basil and Tenzie. Here’s a short glimpse into Basil’s mind:
Listening to Tenzie try to spell her name, I realized for the first time that there was a “ten” in it, which was ridiculous, because ten is white/white, and white is quiet. It didn’t fit her at all. Not only did Tenzie wear a lot of loud colors, but her personality was like the brass section of a band. White would be somebody timid like Miss Chelmski, the assistant in the guidance office, who wrote hall passes when you were late for class.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: I wasn’t familiar with MJ Auch’s work before now, but looking at the three books in her backlog I am loving that she seems to focus on young male protagonists and various ideas of home, family, and acceptance.
Get a second opinion:
Bibliophilic Monologues – “The book is about choosing your own family and being okay with being different.”