Review: One Plus One Equals Blue

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: One Plus One Equals BlueOne Plus One Equals Blue by M.J. Auch
Published by Henry Holt BFYR on April 30, 2013
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: 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.

First Sentence: “I’m the biggest loser in the seventh-grade class at Calvin Marshall Middle School.”

What lured me to One Plus One Equals Blue was the fact that the two main characters both have synesthesia, which I find fascinating and magical. Though One Plus One Equals Blue did not turn out to focus heavily on synesthesia itself, this novel is still a great read, and one sure to please middle grade readers. Auch’s novel focuses primarily on accepting oneself and learning to appreciate the good things in life.

Since I read so much young adult fiction, it’s always nice to read middle grade, which generally focuses more on family dynamics and friendship than on romance. Basil Feeney is an outcast. Having been homsechooled up until the seventh grade, he had little chance of popularity. However, what sealed his fate as the biggest loser in school was when he told his friend why he was so bad at math: the numbers appear to him as colors, and some of the colors are repeated. Ever since, he’s been a freak, isolated from everyone else.

When a weird new girl, Tenzie, arrives, she throws his world for a loop. She sits at his lunch table (errr, desk), joins him on the bus, and invites herself over after school. Tenzie is just about the biggest pest he could ever imagine, and the cover captures his early attitude perfectly. He doesn’t want her to get him noticed, and doesn’t want to get close to her only to have her make fun of him later for being a freak. Plus, she takes his grandmother’s attention away from him where it belongs.

When he realizes that she also sees numbers as colors, though, they really begin to develop a friendship. With some research, he realizes that they are not alone, and that what they are is synesthetic. I loved that, though they had somewhat similar synesthesia, it functioned quite differently for both of them, giving me a better idea of how varied synesthesia can be. The story shifts then from his friendship with Tenzie, though they do continue to grow closer throughout, with little setbacks along the way. Their friendship is very well-handled.

The rest of the book focuses on Basil’s, and to a lesser degree Tenzie’s, familial relationships. Basil never knew his father, was abandoned by his mother who went to Hollywood to pursue her dreams of being a star, and was raised by his Gram. Shortly after his life was changed by the introduction of the indefatigable Tenzie, he’s thrown for a loop once again, when his mother makes her first appearance in seven years.

Carly Feeney is every bit the unreliable, neglectful mother so common in fiction. She has itchy feet, and likes the idea of being a caring mother much better than the reality of a sulky kid, which, even at the best of times, Basil rather is. Carly sweeps everyone else off their feet, though, helping out with the school play. Tenzie, especially, looks up to Carly, desperate for affection and affection, since her parents ignore her. Basil is torn between hope that his mom will finally love him and wishing she would just leave. All the poor parenting is a bit trite, but at least Basil’s grandmother is loving and supportive, and also a totally awesome hippie, who listens to The Beatles and makes stained glass.

With well-drawn characters and realistic emotional arcs, One Plus One Equals Blue is a touching story of teenage outcasts finding one another and coming to terms with their family situations.

Favorite Quote:

“‘You got pretty popular for a while there.’
‘For about forty-eight hours,’ I said. ‘Just long enough to figure out that I don’t want to be popular.'”

12 responses to “Review: One Plus One Equals Blue”

  1. I felt pretty much the same as you. It was super cute and I did like Basil and Tenzie’s friendship and how she pretty much forced herself into his life but it just felt like it was missing something to make it REALLY good, you know? Carly drove me insane, and Tenzie’s parents were terrible. I remember there was one part where she mentioned that she needed school supplies but her parents would get to it after they got what they needed. That made me mad. Anywho, great review!

    • Christina says:

      Agreed. While it was a fun read, it lacked magic. The parents didn’t really learn anything. The kids learned to be happier with what they have, but it’s basically settling for the shitty hands they’ve been dealt. I mean, Tenzie learns they care, but she still comes last. Nothing’s really changed for either of them, and that’s sad.

  2. Amy says:

    I enjoyed this book too. I thought the friendship was great, and I hated Basil’s mom. I really wish that the book had touched on their condition a little more though. I wished that the outcome had been a little happier too, but I guess it’s realistic that life doesn’t always have happy endings. Great review!!

    • Christina says:

      Agreed. Basil’s mom was the worst, and she really should have been more something. She was just so stereotypical. The outcome was surprisingly dark, but it was still a sweet story.

  3. Audra says:

    Iiiiiiiiiinteresting! Not my tastes, but I love the two main characters — synesthesia is so v fascinating!

  4. Princess Ash says:

    Okay, between yours and Heidi’s review, I’m kind of (okay more than kind of) wanting to check this out at my library or something and give it a whirl BUT I’ve already ordered so many. Which means I’m actually going to have to FINISH all my books before I get a few more, which is bogus. But, in short, I’ve got my eye on this!

  5. Annie says:

    Synaesthesia is something that absolutely fascinates me and I love reading about it! This book sounds so coo, I just can’t wait to give it a shot! The book reminds me a bit of Eleanor and Park for some reason and I suppose that’s good since I did really like the book! The cover is so creative and cool too!

  6. Brandy says:

    I hadn’t heard of this one but I’m all over it now. I didn’t know synesthesia existed until I read Ultraviolet and now I feel like I’m seeing it everywhere. I do love MG novels and this one sounds like it will be one I’ll enjoy. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  7. “Since I read so much young adult fiction, it’s always nice to read middle grade, which generally focuses more on family dynamics and friendship than on romance.”


    To be honest, One Plus One = Blue sounds right up my alley – kids with a condition, middle grade, kick ass grandparents, outcasts, weirdos, and middle grade. I’ll have to see if this is on audible. Also I love that cover.

  8. Heidi says:

    Oh I’m so glad to see this one getting more attention! I agree, it does such a great job of focusing on family dynamics, and I love that MG can often focus on these types of issues with more authenticity than YA, it’s what made me really enjoy it as well.

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