Mary Iris Malone liked her old psychiatrist better. This new one wants her to take medication, and her father is thrilled to have someone finally agree with him. He is determined to have everything go smoothly and normally now that he left Mim’s mom in Ohio and moved to Mississippi with Mim and his new wife, Kathy. Now Mim hasn’t heard from her mother in a while, and when she is called to the office at school, she overhears her stepmother telling the principal that Mim’s mother will beat this disease, that she’s a fighter. What disease? Mim turns around before they see her and walks right out of school, finds the coffee can where Kathy keeps her cash, and takes off on a Greyhound bus to see her mom while she’s still alive.
Told in Mim’s inimitable voice and punctuated by letters to an unknown person named Isabel, this road trip story packs in a cast of colorful characters and wild situations. Equipped with a tricky epiglottis, Mim has to work to keep her lunch down, which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on whose shoes are in front of her. During the trip, she decides not to take her medication, so the reader is continually aware that everything Mim sees may be filtered through schizophrenia. Mim is precocious and well-read, with a vocabulary both prodigious and foul, a great storyteller who often ends a depressing tale with “…’twas ever thus.” Her journey is peppered with creepy old men, great old ladies, a homeless boy (“Hey, hey. I’m Walt.”), and a devastatingly handsome young guy, to name a few. All of these people work to help or hinder Mim’s desperate journey to reach her mother before it’s too late.
When I read the description of this debut novel, I didn’t think it would interest me, but I bought it for the library because of all the starred reviews. I read it only because I knew it would be a Printz contender next year. By about page two, I fell in love with it. This is a brilliant novel, and Mim is one of the most appealing protagonists I’ve read in a long time. Her voice is sterling: so tough, and yet terribly vulnerable. Smart, witty teens are one reason that my job is so gratifying, and I resent it when people say that the teen characters in some YA novels are unrealistic. I know too many great kids to believe them. Teens have little control over their own lives, and Mim is someone who has fought against the choices adults have made in her life—either ignorant choices for her or self-centered choices for themselves—with her natural intelligence and humor. Sometimes, she is afraid to trust the right people because so many have let her down before, and yet her heart is wide open to the inner beauty of the innocence she sees in Walt, another character who is just… well, I have tears in my eyes just remembering him.
I highly recommend Mosquitoland, with the caveat that the language can be rough and the situations are sometimes those that should be expected of a sixteen-year-old girl traveling alone. Older teens and adults. Kudos to David Arnold on an incredible debut. May he write many, many more.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.