Mosquitoland: David Arnold

I took a month long break from reading to celebrate the end of classes– I think my brain was just totally fried after final exams, and I really didn’t have time with all the other stuff in my life going on. Recently, though, I made a trip to the library and picked up a few books that looked interesting, so I’m excited to get back on the train!

Mosquitoland was the first of these books; written by David Arnold, it features a young girl named Mim running away from home to find her mother in Cleveland. It’s a coming-of-age story and not your typical one either, with a cast of eccentric characters and some antagonists who are frightening for rather insidious reasons.
Because I took such a long break from reading, I managed to finish this in a day. I’m sitting here and trying to formulate my thoughts now; it feels like it’s been forever since I read the book. I think that’s how you can tell when a book didn’t really sit with you– when you can’t really remember much of it. I mean, take Six of Crows; I read that a month, two months ago? And I remember everything.

Well, this was a good book but it wasn’t my favorite.
I read it on recommendation from a good friend, who absolutely loved the story; I don’t know why it didn’t sit with me. I guess I’m not one for coming-of-age stories in general, and especially road-trip books. I’ll go into more details, but that’ll be the gist of my review: it was okay.

Let’s talk about the cast. Mim, as I stated earlier, is the main character. Her name is Mary Iris Malone, but she goes by “Mim”– her acroname. It’s like an acronym, but for a name. She reminds me a lot of the “quirky weirdo” trope, and I really dislike those types of characters. Do you know what I’m talking about? Like any of the guys from a John Green novel?
Mim’s too pretentious. She’s very condescending: “I swear, the older I get, the more I value bad examples over good ones. It’s a good thing, too, because most people are egotistical, neurotic, self-absorbed peons, insistent on wearing near-sighted glasses in a far-sighted world.”
What the heck, Mim. Who peed in your cereal?
It’s stuff like this that annoys me; and she uses these massive words in all of her introspection, then seems to imply that she only does that because she’s so much smarter than everyone else she knows. I don’t like Mim. She also contributes to the “I’m not like other girls” stereotype, as seen when she and another character, Beck, see a group of teenage girls having fun together, and proceed to have fun by making fun of those girls. Like jeez, guys, get those sticks out of your butts.

I feel bad for her situation; her parents are divorced, her mother, whom she has placed on a pedestal for all of her life, won’t even contact her… and is apparently locked away somewhere in Cleveland. And might have a disease that’s tearing her apart. So I can empathize with her demonization of step-mom Kathy, whom her dad cheats on her mother with (as we find out later). She also feels guilty, like she’s the reason that Kathy was dragged into her lives, because she asked to go to Denny’s one day and there was Kathy in all her glory. Her dad wouldn’t have met Kathy if she just hadn’t asked to go to Denny’s. 

There’s a lot of bad stuff happening to Mim; that doesn’t excuse her, quite frankly, bitchy behavior. She’s a total misanthrope.
Her dad is kind of awful, too. He embodies the overprotective parent, in the worst way possible. Their family has a history of mental illness, and his younger sister Isabel committed suicide in their basement when Mim was young. Mim found the body. From that point on, her father obsesses over the idea that something is inherently wrong with Mim, with her psyche, and makes decisions for the girl that she really should be making herself. He literally goes to the library, reads some books on psychology, and then decides that he knows what treatment Mim needs more than her therapist does. There are bad therapists; but when your daughter, who is the client, prefers one therapist over the other— I would say that you should defer to her.
We can’t antagonize Mim’s dad entirely. He really does it out of love, but that doesn’t make it okay. This whole family needs to work on their communication issues.

I’ve talked about how Mim is a selfish character, but I want to point out that she does help the people that she deigns to care about. Beck, her love interest, has his own goals. Mim goes out of her way to make sure that these objectives are completed. Walt, the (autistic? I’m pretty sure) young man that Mim encounters on her journey, is all alone and with nowhere to go; he shows her some kindness, and Mim realizes that she can’t leave him behind.
She does have a pretty good sense of who to trust. We see that when she puts her life in Ahab and his boyfriend’s hands; also, when she chooses to trust Walt despite the sketchy circumstances. And she knows, upon first meeting, that Poncho Man is someone she should stay away from.

Poncho Man, I think, is one of the reasons that I added another star to this book (because I would totally give it a 2/5, otherwise). I hated him; he’s a horrible antagonist because he’s someone that you can envision in real life. An awkwardly creepy attorney, Mim meets Poncho when she first chooses to run away. He’s got glossy eyes and she hates him, instantly, because he won’t stop talking to her. I was kind of doubtful of her behavior at first; he was annoying, sure, but instead of shutting him down so harshly, couldn’t she be a bit more polite? But girls: no. If you ever feel like you don’t want to talk to someone, you don’t owe them a polite goodbye. Especially if they’re as annoying as Poncho Man. Besides, Mim is right about this perv: it turns out that he’s a child molester, and he corners her in a bathroom at one point of her journey. Mim is able to escape, but he snags another girl later on in the book. It’s heartbreaking.

So overall, I guess this was an alright novel. I wouldn’t recommend it, not unless you enjoy philosopher teens with worldly knowledge that honestly seems beyond them. Or Bildungsroman books. But it broke my out of my funk, so that was cool.
Let’s hope that I can recommend the next novel with more gusto.

 

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