Basil and Tenzie both have synesthesia, either a gift or a curse that can make a person into one of life’s rejects.
For Basil, new to public school from a lifetime of home schooling and previously unaware that not everyone sees numbers as colors, synesthesia just confirms him as a freak. He embraces that status, sitting alone and avoiding his classmates. Tenzie has just moved to town and started at the middle school as well. At first, she seems to have a peculiar and charming resilience that makes her impervious to others’ attitudes. Readers—and first-person narrator Basil—only gradually discover that she’s much more vulnerable than she first appears. After Carly, Basil’s feckless mother, returns from a five-year absence in Hollywood, Basil is appropriately wary. Tenzie, though, ignored by her parents, falls victim to Carly’s dysfunctional attention when the young woman takes over production of the school play. The two seventh-graders and Basil’s attentive, custodial grandmother are sensitively portrayed, but Basil’s voice leaves other characters, especially Carly, only broadly sketched. Her inner workings remain a mystery—just as they are to her bewildered and rejected son. Synesthesia provides an initial bond between Basil and Tenzie, offering a minor subplot, but is never the focus of the tale.
An engaging coming-of-age story marked by the somewhat predictable dysfunctional-parent problems that are so common in the type. (Fiction. 11-14)