One Plus One Equals Blue

One Plus One Equals Blue

4.6 3
by MJ Auch

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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

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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.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Peg Glisson
Basil claims to be the biggest loser in his middle school. He is new to the school, having been homeschooled through 6th grade by his grandmother. She has raised him since he was five, when his mother, Carly, left for Hollywood. He is semi-content with his status and does not let teachers or kids know he has synesthesia, a disability causing numbers or sounds to trigger colors or smells in the brain. Then brazen, bright Tenzie comes to Marshall Middle School. She rides his bus, lives across the street, barges into his life and home—and also has synesthesia! He resents Gram's easy friendliness with her, but slowly the two become friends. When his mother suddenly arrives back home, she also quickly bonds with Tenzie. It does not take long for Carly's irresponsible ways to surface, impacting not only Basil, but also Tenzie and all the others in the school play Carly is directing. Several things kept this book from being wholly successful. The early part of the book is very heavy on what synesthesia is, almost like a lesson being taught through the two kids. Then it largely disappears, as the plot switches to Carly's return and becomes a somewhat typical dysfunctional family tale (both Basil's and Tenzie's) and Basil's coming to terms with his life. The synesthesia element plays hardly any part by the resolution of the story. While the individual characters were interesting and well-done, the whole thing did not "add" up for me. Reviewer: Peg Glisson
Kirkus Reviews
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)
From the Publisher

“It's an account of a kid who learns that it's okay to disturb the universe a little but also to appreciate what he has.” —BCCB

“Carly is a rich character: charismatic, full of good intent, and quick to excite.” —Booklist

“Basil and Tenzie both have synesthesia, either a gift or a curse that can make a person into one of life's rejects. . . . An engaging coming-of-age story.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Quality writing and a protagonist who will inspire readers.” —VOYA on One-Handed Catch

“A good book for reluctant boy readers.” —Booklist on Wing Nut

“This effort quickly hits its stride, mostly due to well-drawn, believable characters and the strength of Travis's nearly indomitable spirit.” —Kirkus Reviews on Guitar Boy

School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Basil has just started seventh grade after being homeschooled by his hippie-era grandmother. At first he thinks he wants to make friends with other students, but he soon decides that he is just too freaky and different to ever have any friends. In October, when Tenzie shows up at school, everything changes. She is pushy and determined to befriend Basil, whether he likes it or not. When he finds out that Tenzie sees numbers as colors, too, he is prompted to do some research. He discovers that they both have the same neurological condition, only Tenzie's synesthesia helps her with math, whereas Basil's makes him hopelessly confused. Life gets topsy-turvy when Basil's mother, who abandoned him seven years earlier, shows up in town. Basil is wary of Carly, but Tenzie is enamored-the woman is beautiful, glamorous, and claims to be an actress. When she abruptly leaves town once again, Tenzie convinces Basil to run away with her and find Carly. The kids go on a harrowing journey only to discover that everything they need is back home. Synesthesia is an important bond between Basil and Tenzie, and readers are led to believe that the condition is going to be more central to the plot, but this is primarily an engaging story of a boy coming to terms with the shortcomings of his mother. It's a nice companion to Wendy Mass's A Mango-Shaped Space (Little, Brown, 2003), which also incorporates synesthesia.—Ragan O'Malley, Saint Ann's School, Brooklyn, NY

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Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.88(w) x 8.36(h) x 0.94(d)
690L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

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Read an Excerpt

One + One = Blue

By MJ Auch

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2013 MJ Auch
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9846-4


I'm the biggest loser in the seventh-grade class at Calvin Marshall Middle School. So far, nobody has challenged my position. My class was supposed to be the stars in the lower school this year. Then a notice came around in August that said they were changing everything around because of overcrowding. The lower school would be kindergarten through sixth, and seventh grade would move up to the new middle school with grades eight and nine. My grandmother homeschooled me my whole life until this year, so grade levels didn't mean much to me. Besides, for a bottom-feeder like me, the reorganization was no problem. The lowest point is a secure position — it never changes. But for kids like Joel Mack, the class jock, or Ashleigh Gianelli, the class beauty, missing out on a year of ruling the lower school and dropping to the lowest rung on the middle school ladder was a big shock. Joel, who probably towered over just about everybody in his old school, looks like a fourth-grader here. And Ashleigh is pretty, but she can't compare to the ninth-grade gorgeous girls. Some of them could be in the movies. Honest. I'm not kidding.

I figured out right away that lunch can be the worst period of the day because where you sit says a lot about how important you are. Not a worry for me. Right at the beginning of the school year, I staked out a claim at a small table — actually a desk — in the back corner of the cafeteria, where I could observe what was going on. From my vantage point, I've been watching how the other kids formed groups. It took a couple of weeks for the table arrangements to shake out — three grade levels of every category — the gorgeous girls, the jocks, the brainiacs, the techno-nerds, and the kids who think they've hit the jackpot when they get a D plus. Well, that's sort of a bottom group, and my grades could qualify me for that table. I'm not like them, though, because I'm smart everywhere but in school.

When it was just Gram and me doing lessons together, there were no other kids to compare myself to. We would have long, interesting discussions about whatever subject I was studying. Gram made me feel like I was some kind of genius. Then the first few tests in public school put me pretty much on the bottom of the pile. I didn't want to upset Gram by telling her how bad my grades were, but I knew she would find out when the first report cards went home.

To make things worse, most of the kids in my class had been together since kindergarten, and I didn't know any of them. Having a name like Basil Feeney didn't help me fit in, either. My mother, Carly, named me after an herb. It was the main ingredient in her favorite sauce — pesto — so things could have been a lot worse. Carly dumped me with my grandmother when I was five and ran off to Hollywood to become a star.

I might have been able to overcome the bad grades and the no-friends thing if it hadn't been for my freakism. I was even starting to make one friend, Jason Ferris. Jason and I sat next to each other in most of our classes because our last names started with the same letter. We weren't exactly best buddies, but he was the closest thing I'd ever had to a kid friend. For a couple of weeks, Jason and I got along pretty well. I even started sitting with him at a real lunch table once in a while.

Then came the day we were supposed to be correcting each other's math review worksheets. Jason read the problem out loud. "One jar holds 635 marbles, and another jar has 463 marbles. If you put them all together, how many marbles would you have?" He looked up from the paper. "You said 798. It's supposed to be 1,098."

"That's because of three and six both being yellow," I explained. "I get them mixed up a lot. Don't you?"

Jason dipped his chin and peered at me over his glasses.

I should have realized something was wrong, but like an idiot I kept going. "Same thing with one and zero both being white. I mean, there are so many colors. Why couldn't each number get a different one?" This seemed so logical to me. For as long as I could remember, every time I saw a number, it had a color for me. And every time I saw a color that was the exact shade of one of my numbers, it would make me think of that number. It was as normal as breathing, which was why I couldn't understand the look I was getting from Jason.

He sat staring at me, but he didn't have to answer because the bell rang and we went to lunch. At least Jason did. He grabbed his lunch bag and was in line by the door before I could stand up. We weren't allowed to cut ahead, so I didn't see him until I got into the cafeteria. By the time I got my milk, Jason was sitting at a table that was full, so I retreated to my desk-table in the back corner.

I saw Jason talking to the kids around him, then they all laughed. He turned and pointed at me, and they all looked at me and laughed again. I was pretty sure he was talking about me, but I didn't understand what was happening until we got in line to go back to class. The kid in front of me — I think his name was Max — said, "My eight is orange. What color is yours?"

So different people had different colors for their numbers? Was that the reason Jason acted so weird? "Eight is sort of a dark blue-purple," I said. "Orange is five for me."

The kids around us started laughing. When I got on the bus for the trip home, I could tell that everybody knew about my numbers and colors freakism. And for the first time in my life, I realized this wasn't a normal thing that everybody had. I could hear comments coming from all over the bus. By the time we got to my stop, I was convinced I was the only person in the world who saw numbers as colors and colors as numbers.

Gram knew I was bummed the minute I came through the door. "Have a bad day, Basil?" She could read me like a book.

"Yeah, I guess."

"Tell me about it. It always helps me to talk about a problem."

I was just about to open my mouth when she said, "As long as it's not a math problem. You know how bad I am at that."

Of course she would think I was having trouble with one of my subjects. That's when I realized that I'd never talked about my colors and numbers thing with her. I had probably thought about colors when we were doing math worksheets, but I couldn't remember ever saying anything out loud. Why would I? I thought everybody saw it the same way. But now I knew I was the odd one. How would Gram feel if I hit her with the fact that her grandson was an all-out freak? So I didn't tell her.

That's when I stopped trying to make friends in school — not that I'd ever had any real friends. I never saw that many kids when I was homeschooled. Once in a while, Gram and I would get together with the homeschooled kids in Broxburg for something like a fossil field trip to Craig's Creek. There were lots of other get-togethers, but I really hated them. I don't think Gram was too wild about them either, because she never forced me to go. Our friends were all adults, older ones like Gram, who didn't have kids my age.

Giving up on having friends really hadn't been my decision anyway. Kids started making fun of other things about me, like my rooster-tail cowlick and my nose, which takes a slight left turn halfway down my face. Everybody thought I was too weird to hang out with. So from then on, I settled into my position as class loser, and I kept the numbers and colors freakism to myself. I kept everything to myself.


It was the first Monday in October when I walked into the cafeteria and knew right away — my class loser title was at risk. There was a girl sitting at my desk-table who could have been the poster girl for Sunny Daze Thrift Shop. I know this for sure, because I'm their poster boy.

I plopped my milk and lunch bag on the table. "This is my spot," I said.

She looked up at me through glasses that had tiny plastic flowers glued all around the openings. I say openings, because there wasn't any glass in them. "There's plenty of room," she said. "Pull up a chair."

She was inviting me to sit at my own table? I stood there staring, but that didn't seem to bother her. She was busy picking slices of radish out of what looked like a cream cheese sandwich. "I'm Tenzie Verplank," she said. When I didn't move, she got up and grabbed a chair from the techno-nerd table and plopped it down across from her. "Sit. Stay," she ordered, the way you'd talk to a Labrador retriever.

If I went anywhere else, I'd have to deal with a whole table of strangers, so I did what she said. Our knees bumped together as soon as I sat down. I pulled my chair back. I was facing the wall, which made me uneasy. I'd had enough experience with people slapping "kick me" signs between my shoulder blades to know you never sit with your back to the room. Now the only thing I had to look at was Tenzie.

I concentrated on my lunch. This was a good day — thin slices of roast beef wrapped around pieces of avocado, red and yellow pepper sticks with cucumber dip, and almond cookies with cranberries. Gram says it's important to have lots of color in every meal to make it interesting. Some of the lunches she comes up with could be framed and hung on the wall.

"How come you sit here alone?" Tenzie asked. "No friends?"

"I don't see any friends sitting with you," I said.

"We just moved here," she shot back. "What's your excuse?"

Her eyes were drilling a hole into my forehead. It wasn't that they were unusual looking like green or violet. They were dirty bathwater gray. It was the way she looked out of them, not shy and off to the side like you expect from a new kid.

"You got a name?" she asked.


"Basil like in pesto?"

I glared at her. "Just Basil."

We sat there chewing and ignoring each other for a few minutes. Well, I was ignoring her, but I could feel her staring at me. When she started radish-picking the other half of her sandwich, I sneaked another look at her. I don't know anything about girls' clothes, but I was pretty sure hers wouldn't cut it at the gorgeous girls' table. Tenzie had on this big flowy dress thing, and her skinny arms hung out of the short puffy sleeves like the clapper on a cowbell. The dress was a wild print of blue and orange flowers, the exact colors for my two and five. The flowers practically vibrated in front of my eyes, making it hard for me to look away.

Tenzie took the last bite of her sandwich, wrapped the rejected radishes, and got up. "I'm sitting here tomorrow," she said. "See you then, Pesto." As soon as she left, I slipped into my regular seat, but it didn't feel the same now that my safe loser's spot had been invaded.

I spent the rest of lunch period watching Ashleigh Gianelli study the eighth-grade popular girls' table. The older girls all had hair that was straight and shiny and swung forward when they looked down. Ashleigh must have tried to straighten hers out, but in the steamy heat of the cafeteria, it was starting to curl up again on one side. I thought she looked better with curly hair, even if it wasn't swingy, but what did I know? No matter how much gel goop I used in the morning to plaster down my cowlick, it always broke loose by the time the bus arrived at the school.

When I got to my next class — math — I noticed a bright flash of two and five. Tenzie was sitting in the desk in front of mine. She looked over her shoulder. "Hey, Pesto, you following me around?"

I slid down in my seat, hoping nobody had heard what she called me.

Mrs. Lowe was writing multiplication problems on the board. "We're going to try something different today," she said. "I'm giving you a chance to show off your multiplication facts. When I call on you, stand up by your desk and solve the problem out loud." She said this like she was doing us a favor. This should have been easy for me, because Gram started teaching me multiplication tables a few years ago. When I looked at the problems on the board now, the colors all ran together. Maybe it was because I was scared to stand up in front of the class to answer.

Mrs. Lowe started by calling on a kid in the first row. Before I could get the numbers into my head, the kid had solved the problem and was back in his seat. Then Mrs. Lowe called on the girl behind him. She was taking a little longer to figure out the problem.

I looked at the clock, trying to estimate how long it would take to get to me. Maybe my turn wouldn't come until tomorrow, and I was pretty sure I felt a bad cold coming on. I coughed. Yep, I could feel those little cold germs multiplying in my throat right now, building whole colonies of misery. I'd have to stay home for sure.

Mrs. Lowe called on the third girl in the fourth row. She was skipping people! Not fair! I coughed again, hoping I could bring the cold on faster and go to the nurse. But my plan backfired. My cough caught Mrs. Lowe's attention. I started chanting in my head. Don't call on me. Don't call on me. As Mrs. Lowe raised her hand to point at me, I felt my stomach form a fist around Gram's colorful lunch. Maybe I could throw up right now.

"Basil," she said, "you try this problem."

I tried to focus on the numbers. Thirty-eight times nine. Nine! When Gram and I practiced the multiplication tables at home, I always burned out by the sevens, and Gram never pushed me to go further because she was as confused as me.

I stood up. Mrs. Lowe was tapping the eight and the nine, back and forth. Back and forth. It was almost hypnotizing, watching the chalk bounce from one number to the other. Purple, brown, purple, brown. "Come on, Basil. Eight times nine. You know this."

The purple eight and brown nine danced in front of my eyes, and then the blue two and orange five of Tenzie's dress joined them, flashing in and out. What were the numbers I was supposed to be multiplying? Four times eight? No, there was a nine. A brown nine. Tenzie's blue two and orange five merged and made brown. "Two plus five is nine," I blurted out. There was an explosion of laughter. I wanted to be invisible again.

The kid next to me snorted and slapped his desk. "You kill me, Pesto." He had heard the name.

"Concentrate, Basil. We're doing multiplication now," Mrs. Lowe said with that fake-patient voice teachers get when they don't want people to know they think you're stupid. "What's eight times nine, Basil?"

Tenzie covered her mouth and leaned back. "Seventy-two," she whispered.

"Seventy-two," I said, and sat down, relieved to have the ordeal over.

But it wasn't over. Everybody was laughing again. Did Tenzie slip me the wrong answer?

"That's right, though you're not finished, Basil," Mrs. Lowe said. "Stand up and do the rest." She was bouncing that piece of chalk again. "Three times nine."

"Twenty-seven," Tenzie whispered. As I parroted the answer, I thought about how seventy-two was green and blue, and twenty-seven was blue first, then green.

"Basil, stay with me here." Mrs. Lowe was saying something about how we had to carry over the seven to the twenty-seven. Tenzie whispered the final answer. "Three hundred and forty-two," I repeated after her.

"Very nice work, Basil." Mrs. Lowe had a maybe-this-kid-isn't-a- total-moron-after-all look on her face.

I could already feel the danger of being a non-loser. Now I'd have to live up to the reputation of giving a right answer. "Or maybe it's three hundred and fifty-four," I said, slipping into my seat. The pressure of high expectations slipped from my shoulders and fractured on the floor around me.

Tenzie turned in her seat and gave me a puzzled look.

I just smiled and shrugged. Tenzie was no threat to my loser status or my desk in the cafeteria. She'd be sitting with the eccentric brainiacs in no time. There were a lot of open spots at that table. She'd fit right in.


I settled into my usual seat on the school bus — front row, window, right behind Mrs. Kenyon, the driver. Nobody ever sat with me, because Mrs. Kenyon would stop the bus if she saw anything even slightly out of line in her rearview mirror.

The first couple of days on the bus, I had tried to hide in the back, but it didn't take me long to figure out that those seats were taken by kids who wanted to be as far away from Mrs. Kenyon as possible. I also learned fast that you could get kicked, poked, and pinched without it showing up in Mrs. Kenyon's rearview mirror. Sitting up front in Mrs. Kenyon's force field had kept my bus trips safe and uneventful.

I stared out the side window as the other kids boarded until I felt somebody plop into the seat next to me. "Hey, Pesto, we're on the same bus. How's that for a coincidence?"


Excerpted from One + One = Blue by MJ Auch. Copyright © 2013 MJ Auch. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

MJ Auch is the award-winning author of One-Handed Catch, Ashes of Roses, Wing Nut, Guitar Boy, and numerous other books for young readers. She lives in upstate New York with her family.

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One Plus One Equals Blue 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After I read this book I realized I have synesthesia too! For example, May is a dark read and November is a light blue. If you like this book, I would reccomend A Mango Shaped Space.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about a boy named Basil who thinks hes no good and cant do nything..... untill he meets a girl, who has something very simalar to him. Heartwarming and sweet
Iftcan More than 1 year ago
Basil, who has trouble in school because of his unreported synesthesia meets Tenzie, a girl who suffers from synesthesia too. While he doesn't get help from a professional for dealing with his problem, just knowing someone else who suffers from it--and finding out that there is a NAME for what he has, does help him deal with his loneliness and frustration. Excellent read for anyone, but especially teenagers, as it does a good job of showing sympathically what an outsider goes through and how they feel.