I picked up this book last year at Chapters during one of their summer book sales, and it marked the end of my book buying sprees until I actually read some of the books in my TBR piles that were precariously stacked in front of my bookshelf and wobbled every time I walked by.
After reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, which I reviewed here, I wanted a book that was lighter in both writing style and plot, and this book was perfect.
Mosquitoland is a novel written from the perspective of Mim Malone, a 16-year-old girl who, upon learning that her mother is sick, hops on a greyhound bus in Mississippi and heads to Ohio to be with her, leaving behind her father and new step-mother. Along the way, Mim meets a host of quirky characters, such as Bus Driver Carl, Arlene, Poncho Man, Walt, Caleb, and Beck, to name a few.
The witty narration is on-point, and really resonated with me. I don’t know if David Arnold and I just have the same sense of humour or what but I actually laughed out loud several times hole reading this book, and most of these instances were on a public transit bus and received their fair share of stranger glances berating me for displaying any kind of joviality in the presence of strangers. I feel like David Arnold would be a really cool friend, and apparently he likes pesto, Middle-Earth, Christmastime, Arcade Fire, and indie bookstores so, really, what’s not to like about him???
I really liked how the chapters were grouped into different sections according to the location they took place in, with a page noting the location and the number of miles to go starting from Jackson, Mississippi (947 miles to go), to Yalobusha County, Mississippi (818 miles to go), to Nashville, Tennessee (526 miles to go), to Independence, Kentucky (278 miles to go), to Cincinnati, Ohio (249 miles to go), to Ashland, Ohio (61 miles to go), and ending in Cleveland, Ohio (947 miles from Mosquitoland).
At the beginning of every few chapters, there is a letter written by Mim to someone named Isabel. As the reader learns early on in the novel, Isabel is the name of her father’s sister, an aunt who displayed similar mental health symptoms in her childhood as Mim exhibits, which alarms her father into booking appointments with doctors and seeking out medical help for Mim early on. However, it is not until the closing chapters that the reader learns to whom Mim is actually writing, and this was a welcome and heartwarming plot twist.
I am loving this surge of YA novels that incorporate mental health, particularly this novel that shows that, while one might be quick to judge strange or “irrational behaviours” as symptoms of a mental illness that needs to be helped through therapy sessions or medication, such behaviours can simply be personality quirks and that medication may do more harm than good if it is prescribed to treat a mental illness that is not present in the patient.
Also, the cover illustration is adorable and perfectly encapsulates Mim in a drawing. I know it’s not good to judge a book by its cover but, between the cover and the description of the book on the inside of the jacket, there is no way I was leaving the bookstore without this in my bag. There is also a really cool map on the endpaper at the beginning and end of the book that shows Mim’s journey through a series of drawings of people or items that are particularly significant for each part of the story.
The one negative aspect I do want to address is the backlash that David Arnold received for referencing Mim’s application of her mother’s lipstick to her face as ‘war paint.’ Apparently this plays into Native American stereotypes of being on the warpath. I respect the views of others and, as someone who is no part Native American, I cannot fully appreciate the implications that Mim using lipstick war paint as a means to face adversity may have. However, Mim is described as 1/16 Cherokee,and I did not see her use of the lipstick as any reflection of how a Cherokee or any other Native American individual would use lipstick, and certainly not as war paint. Mim is indeed ignorant about her Cherokee heritage and uses the “war paint” as a way to feel close to her mother and to feel empowered when her life feels out of control. In one of the last chapters of the book, Mim learns that her life is ok and the lipstick does not mean what she thought it did, choosing to leave it behind with her mother.
Among his previous jobs, David Arnold was a freelance musician and producer, and actually created an original soundtrack for this debut YA novel while writing it, which you can listen to here. There were even rumours floating around that this book was going to be adapted into a movie, but I can’t seem to find the trailer online anywhere. I love a good movie soundtrack and I find it so cool that the author actually created a companion soundtrack for the novel. The soundtrack, available on BandCamp under David Arnold’s music moniker Cinema Cycle, consists of 9 songs that have incredible music, and insertions of lyrics here and there. My favourite thus far is the first song, Say It Out Loud, which I have been listening to on repeat for the last week or so. I am no music blogger so I don’t know the right technical things to say, but I love how all the songs have such great beats to them, making them perfect for listening to while taking a stroll through the city during the day or at night.
David Arnold’s second novel, Kids of Appetite, is scheduled to have a fall 2016 release, and I am extremely excited for it to be published so I can have it in my hot little hands and read it in one sitting. I am debating re-reading Mosquitoland and doing so in one sitting because I love Arnold’s way of writing a tragicomedy, and his characters are unique, complex, and lovable.
And now for the bookish tidbits:
I am Mary Iris Malone, and I am not okay.
What I Loved Most: Definitely Mim’s sense of humour and witty observations.
What I Loved Least: No spoilers, but I found the ending to be quite anti-climactic. The reader follows Mim for 324 pages from Mississippi to Ohio, during which she meets a host of quirky but mostly loveable characters, but when Ashe finally arrives to see her mother, the plot just sort of peters out like a soft sigh. There was so much build up that I felt let down when we finally arrived in Ohio.
It’s impossible to wonder when your heart will stop beating without wondering if that time is now (148).
All my life, I’ve been searching for my people, and all my life, I’ve come up empty. At some point and I don’t know when, I accepted isolation. I curled into a ball and settled for a life of observations and theories, which really isn’t a life at all (249).
What if . . . what if . . . what if . . . I play the What If? game all the time. But it’s rigged, is the thing. Impossible to win. Asking What If? Can only lead to Maybe Things Could Have Been Different, via Was It My Fault? (259).
Life, it seems, delivers the best punch lines only after we’ve forgotten we were part of a joke (276).
Because sometimes a thing’s not a thing until you say it out loud.
Final Thoughts: This is definitely a great summer read. It is funny and whimsical while also being profound and heartbreaking. It is a real page turner and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an incredible YA novel.
Have you read this book before??? What did you think of it???