Book Review: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

187188483 out of 5 Stars

I’m kind of all over the place lately with my reading selections, jumping between YA fantasy to adult horror, classic dystopian to regional non-fiction.

The flavor this week is contemporary YA.

The Excerpt

I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange.

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

Told in an unforgettable, kaleidoscopic voice, Mosquitoland is a modern American odyssey, as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.

My Take?

I enjoyed this book overall, but I struggled with the storytelling style. The novel is narrated by Mim, a 16 year old girl who’s dealing with a lot in life. When she’s called to the principle’s office for a meeting with her Dad and step-mother, it’s the last straw for Mim. She ditches school and takes off on a cross-country road trip to find her mom.

Mim’s travels lead her through many beautiful experiences but also some horrendously catastrophic events. She discovers friendships in strange places and witnesses the wonders of nature. She also lives through a terrible accident, is approached by a pedophile, and almost gets stabbed to death. This novel moved right along from one exciting incident to the next, keeping me interested, but sadly the events often felt disconnected.

The storytelling style is interesting, but I can’t decide if I’m really a fan or not. The book oscillates between a typical narrative and Mim’s journal entries written to the mysterious “Iz”. Mim’s voice is… unique. As a typical 16-year-old, she likes to swear a lot and add emphatic words like “boom” to the end of her statements, piling on layers of sarcasm and snark. On the other hand, the language of the story is very philosophical and uses advanced vocabulary to describe Mim’s abstract theories about the world. The contrast threw me off, making it difficult for me to connect with the character and the story at times.

Mosquitoland had many great examples of diverse characters, but sometimes felt like it was trying a little too hard. Mim is physically disabled (she’s blind in one eye), takes medication for mental illness, and is one-sixteenth Native American. She has an aunt who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, has suffered through her parents’ divorce, and her mother is British. During the story, Mim befriends Walt, a wonderfully optimistic soul with Down Syndrome. At another point in her trip, she hunts down the nephew of a friend, who happens to be a gay, black-belt-wearing hippy who owns a gas station with his boyfriend. I love seeing diverse characters in books, but Mim’s character was such a jumble of diversity that she felt flat sometimes.

Despite my qualms about this book, it did cover some great topics for a contemporary YA novel. The book deals with the stigmas related to mental illness, disability, coping mechanisms, the use of mood-altering medications, sexual abuse, and suicide. It also discusses the implications of divorce, remarriage, the definition of home, and what it means to be family. The content of this book was amazing; I just wished the plot wouldn’t have felt so disconnected.

Overall, I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. If you’re looking for a unique road trip story with a great message, give this one a shot 🙂

 

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