A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mosquitoland is a powerful coming-of-age novel about the brilliant, half-blind, mentally ill 16-year-old Mary Iris Malone, who's on a tumultuous four-day trip from Mississippi to Ohio to reunite with her sick mom. Author David Arnold's debut novel explores many challenging subjects, including psychosis, sexual assault, divorce, blended families, depression, suicide, sexual orientation, intellectual disability, and, of course, friendship and first love. There are some intense scenes (a deadly bus crash, a child molester who attacks two teen girls, a couple of fistfights, and one knife-wielding thief), as well as a strong attraction between a 16-year-old and a 21-year-old that stays just inside the boundaries of appropriate, but it's nothing most mature teen readers couldn't handle. In keeping with the characters, the language is occasionally strong, and a couple of characters drink or smoke cigarettes. This is an ideal pick for teen readers who appreciate well-written stories about self-discovery.
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What's the story?
The opening page of MOSQUITOLAND is one line -- "I am Mary Iris Malone, and I am not okay" -- and the second is the first in a series of letters to an unspecified relative named Isabel, to whom Mary (or Mim, as she prefers to be called) is chronicling the story of a 1,000-mile journey she took to get home to her mother. Mim lives in Jackson, Mississippi, with her father and his new wife, Kathy, but she refers to the town as Mosquitoland, and it doesn't feel like home. After discovering that her beloved mother is sick back home in Cleveland, Mim decides to steal her stepmother's secret stash of cash and take the first Greyhound bus headed for Ohio by Labor Day, which is only four days away. Mim is no stereotypical teenager: She may or may not suffer from psychosis; she's temporarily blind in one eye; and she has a displaced epiglottis and can pretty much vomit on command. All these issues -- and more -- come into play as Mim travels the 947 miles and meets a host of strangers, some heroic, some villainous, but most somewhere in between who change her life.
Is it any good?
David Arnold has created an unforgettable main character in Mim. Readers don't need to relate to her or even like her to feel invested in her story, which takes bizarre, heartbreaking, but always revelatory twists and turns. In Arnold's crisp prose, Mim comes alive in all her flawed glory. A loner whose best friend is her mysteriously absent mother, she would love to be played by Kate Winslet in the imaginary filmed version of her life, but she amends this choice to Zooey Deschanel before admitting that, OK, she's more of a young Ellen Page. She categorizes the kinds of suburban teens who act, dress, and think the same as the "Generics," who don't treasure fierce individuality the way Mim does; in her letters, she's as beautifully damaged and in need of hope and friendship as Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower or Laurel in Love Letters to the Dead.
So here's this puking, half-blind, unpredictable girl who hears voices in her head, and all she wants is to reach the one person in the world she knows loves her unconditionally. Along the way, she meets an older woman, Arlene, and two guys -- Walt, a homeless teenager with Down syndrome living under a bridge in Independence, Kentucky, and Beck, a gorgeous 20- or 21-year-old college guy who was on the bus with her -- who quickly become her close friends (and in the case of Beck, her unattainable love interest). They each make Mim reconsider the way she closes herself off to anyone other than her mother. This trip is anything but easy, and at times it's so hard and heavy you want to reach out and hug Mim (or slap her, or both), but there's hope, too -- a conversation you don't want to end, a chaste kiss full of promise, a new beginning after so many old hurts.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of books about life-changing road trips. Why are road trip books such a compelling metaphor for the journey of life?
Discuss the way the author switches between the epistolary sections and the standard narrative of Mim's trip. Do you like the way Mim's flashbacks and random thoughts in her letters switch to the continuation of her journey?
What do you think of the romance in Mosquitoland? Is it appropriate? Believable?
- Author: David Arnold
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Publication date: March 3, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 336
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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