After reading a few chapters of David Arnold’s Mosquitoland, my first thought was a negative “quirky, pretentious, and self indulgent”.  Wrong.  This book is authentic and gripping and I did not want it to end. I could not put it down.

Mary Iris Malone (Mim) is 17 and recently transplanted to Mississippi from Cleveland after the break down of her parents’ marriage.  Her dad and new stepmom move her for a fresh start, but she isn’t happy. She is an anomaly, different. After a chance eavesdropping in the principal’s office, she realizes her mom is very sick and hops a Greyhound to take the 987 mile trip to save her.

This is a road trip that turns everything on its head, literally.  The bus crash, the pinnacle of all Carls, a chance meeting with an elderly lady who smells like cookies and has pizzazz, the creepy Poncho Man, the search for Ahab, and the final sad truth about her mom.

Yet another book written in alternating voices, but this time, both are Mim’s.  She narrates the story, but also writes letters to someone named Iz, in the form of a journal, recording her memories and lessons learned and general thoughts on her existence to date. The journal provides an opportunity to tell of her life before the big break-up, giving insight into her family and state of mind, and allowing Arnold to seamlessly include information that would have been difficult to impart otherwise. Everything contributes to her character and the plot without feeling extraneous.

Arnold’s characters are beautiful. Mim is such a perfect, irresistible teenager; she is brilliant, vulnerable, observant, pretentious, FUNNY.  Her narration is so spot on, nothing wasted, that her voice remains with you long after you finish her story. Walt, a teen boy with Down Syndrome, Beck, the hot college boy from seat 17C, her evil stepmother, Kathy, her dad, who believes Mim has a mental illness, are all wonderfully scripted and add so much to Mim’s story.

And following the theme of “what the hell do I know?”, the ending was a complete and total surprise.  Every bit of it.  Everything I predicted would happen – wrong.  Every person I thought I knew – wrong.  It was worth reading this novel just for the ending.

Definitely a YA novel, not really for the younger crowd.  Anyone 14 and waaaaay up will love it.

Mosquitoland is published by Viking Children’s Press.


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