Mosquitoland

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Mosquitoland Book Poster Image
Unforgettable story of a girl's 1,000-mile journey home.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 7 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn about everything from Mim's (or her mother's) interest in philosophy, psychology, and pop culture (mostly music, such as Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presely, Elliott Smith, Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Nick Drake, and more) to possible medical conditions (solar retinopathy, displaced epiglottis, psychosis, clinical depression).

Positive Messages

Mim's journey reveals many truths to her: that hardly anyone is all hero or all villain; that writing helps you process your thoughts and feelings; that pain (and how they deal with it) makes people who they are; that it's important to be kind to everyone but not a pushover; that you have to "understand who you are and who you are not"; and that asking for help and opening yourself up to people isn't a sign of weakness or being "generic" but a necessary part of a life full of love and joy. Mim's story also makes clear that sometimes we lie even to ourselves and can't see things clearly -- until we take a step back and lift the veil from our eyes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mim is smart and daring, but she's also so hurt and angry she doesn't always see things clearly. Beck is helpful, protective, and understanding, but he also lies about something to Mim. Mim's mom inspires her and loves her unconditionally but also is missing and unable to communicate with her. Mim's dad and Kathy love her but don't understand her -- especially her dad. Arlene is open-minded and wise.

Violence

A bus crash kills a passenger and injures others. There's a disturbing child molester/rapist who attacks two different teen girls (one 16, one 13) in the same manner. He ends up in custody and is beaten up by a young man who puts together what he did. A young man with mental health issues plans to hurt a mentally challenged teen to steal his money, and he threatens several people with a knife. An adult man subdues the attacker. A girl finds the body of someone who committed suicide.

Sex

Mim recalls her first attraction to an older boy and a celebrity and how she fantasized about both. A 16-year-old and a 21-year-old have strong romantic feelings for each other, but they don't act on them beyond a kiss on the forehead and an embrace.

Language

Occasional strong language includes "f--k," "motherf--ker," "s--t," "a--hole."

Consumerism

Brands or companies mentioned in the book include Denny's, JanSport, Spanx, Mountain Dew, Apple, Tory Burch, the prescription drug Abilify, and so on.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A couple of small characters smoke cigarettes, and Mim often discusses her prescription drugs.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bysixthgradefun April 14, 2016

Fabulous tale

LOVED reading this book and following along Mim's journey. Parts of the story are written in letter form to someone named Iz (we find out later just who th... Continue reading
Adult Written byivytlee May 12, 2016

AMazing

Mosquitoland by David Arnold is amazing!! It is the perfect book for a lazy day, I finished it in less than 24 hours. Mary Iris Malone makes her way from Missis... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old December 5, 2016
Teen, 15 years old Written bystranger.things December 28, 2017
I read this when i was twelve years old and still to this day it is my favorite book. I keep rereading it.

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? 

Book details

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