Mosquitoland by David Arnold

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MosquitolandMosquitoland by David Arnold
Viking, 2015.

Recently moved to Mississipi (aka Mosquitoland) with her father and new stepmother, 16 year-old Mim overhears a conversation that suggests her mother is ill, so she embarks on a 947-mile journey to Cleveland, Ohio to see her.

Mim is a humorous, intelligent and engaging narrator who defines herself as “a collection of oddities” and her entertaining odyssey, narrated through a journal and letters, is never straightforward, but “detours are not without purpose.” Mim has accidentally blinded herself in one eye, by looking at an eclipse, and this lack of visual perspective is a metaphor for how she views herself and other around her, particularly her parents and stepmother, and her encounters with different characters, both good and evil, develops her insight.

Along the way, Mim picks up two traveling companions: Walt, who has Down Syndrome, and gorgeous Beck. They both are able to understand her in a way that offers Mim an alternative idea of family: “If you can find [one person who gets you], you’ve found home.”

It is not clear to the reader (or even to Mim herself) whether she is simply on the far end of quirky, or is suffering from genuine psychosis as her father believes. Once again (see All the Bright Places) we have a teen with an unspecified mental issue – and in this case it is not entirely clear that she has one at all – who decides that medication is not for her. I’m in no way a mental health expert, but I do worry about the trope that taking medication in some way dulls you and makes you a “Generic”.

Also of concern is Mim’s ritual of using her mother’s lipstick as “warpaint” and referring to herself as a “Cherokee chieftess.” It is written (both by Mim and Mr. Arnold) with a knowingness about stereotypes, but I should point out that it has been called out by Debbie Reese.

This original, episodic novel has a slightly hallucinogenic tone that fits perfectly with the nature of a symbolic quest, and will appeal to teen readers who enjoy idiosyncratic characters and inventive writing.

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