One Plus One Equals Blue

Book review by
Joe Applegate, Common Sense Media
One Plus One Equals Blue Book Poster Image
Upbeat tale about kids coping with disadvantages.

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Kids say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about synesthesia -- the neurological condition, associated with artists, in which one sensation invokes another. In the case of 12-year-old Basil Feeney, he's poor at arithmetic because he confuses numbers and colors: 3 and 6, for instance, are different shades of yellow. He's befriended by a classmate with the same condition who has learned to turn it to her advantage. The details on synesthesia won't overwhelm young readers, but neither do they enhance the main story about Basil's ruptured relationship with his mother, and they lose impact by being incidental rather than integral to the plot.

Positive Messages

Talking about your problems is fundamental to coping with them: That's what 12-year-old Basil Feeney learns from his new friend Tanzie Verplank, both of whom have the same unusual neural condition.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Seventh-grader Tanzie is everything you'd want a girl to be, and maybe a little more. Confident, compassionate, assertive, and outgoing, she would be too perfect, except for the fact that we see she comes from a home where she's lost in the fog of her parents' careers. At best, a young reader with a disability will see how Tanzie's openness and optimism have served her well. At worst, some young readers might find Tanzie too goody-goody to be true. Motherly oddball Gram presents a more complex figure. Introduced as an artsy but competent homemaker, she seems the idealized, good-hearted hippie. But the story adds details that present readers with a hard truth: an impetuous decision that Gram made early in her life foreclosed many opportunities afterward. Readers might reflect that Gram has made the best of her mistake.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that One Plus One Equals Blue is unusual coming-of-age story about two preteens dealing with the same problems: synesthesia and parental neglect (synesthesia is the neurological condition, associated with artists, in which one sensation evokes another -- a number looks like a color, for instance). Basil Feeney longs to know that his absent mother loves him, while Tanzie Verplank's parents are more involved in their careers than with her. The cheerful and confident Tanzie helps Basil understand synesthesia and see his mother more clearly. Young readers will follow characters taking important steps toward satisfying selfhood, through a story that, while somewhat predictable, has positive messages and role models -- and is free of violence, language, and other iffy content.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written byCat15 September 16, 2019

Just one thing-

It bothered me that synesthesia was spoken about as a disability, in fact it is a gift.

What's the story?

Basil Feeney's mom has left her Pennsylvania town to make it in Hollywood. Homeschooled by his grandmother, Basil enters the seventh grade without knowing he has synesthesia, a neurological condition in which one sensation triggers another -- which could be the reason he's failing math (he confuses numbers and colors). Then he meets another new kid, Tanzie Verplank, who has the same condition, and she shows him how she copes with it. Meanwhile, Basil's flaky mom returns, which leads to a journey of self-discovery for both Tanzie and Basil.

Is it any good?

This sweet but watery tale shows us the challenges of synesthesia, the neurological condition in which one sensation triggers an unrelated one. Not uncommon in artists (Vladimir Nabokov said that he and his mother could taste letters of the alphabet), synesthesia presents wonderful experiences to those who are ready to exploit them. In ONE PLUS ONE EQUALS BLUE, Basil and Tanzie come to terms with the condition in several passages that delight.

But the weight of the story falls on the relationship between Basil and his mother, who abandoned him to seek stardom in Hollywood then falls back into his life. Young readers will relate to Basil's longing for his mother's love, a feeling that's inseparable from his resentment of her selfishness. Ultimately, though, the storylines about synesthesia and poor parenting don't build on each other, and the result is less than compelling.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about synesthesia. Had you ever heard of this condition before? How could you learn more? Would you rather learn about things like this via fiction or through research/in school? Why?

  • Can you relate to what Basil and Tanzie experience? Is there a color that looks sad to you? One that makes you feel great? Is there a scent that takes you back to a particular place and a time?

  • Tanzie tells Basil that artistic people are seven times more likely than other people to have synesthesia. Why might that be?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age tales

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