Mosquitoland by David Arnold
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on March 3, 2015
Genres: young adult, contemporary, mental health/mental illness, coming of age
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When I first heard about this book, I was really excited. It promised to be a unique and fascinating read with a vibrant and distinct narrator, as well as a reflection on mental illness. When I found it at my library, I snatched it right up.
Only, I feel like this book isn’t all it claims to be. It’s marketed as this deep, introspective road trip novel that’ll make you ask big, deep (probably going to be using that word a lot here, folks) questions about life and the way it works. But I don’t think it’s that. I think this is a book that tries a little too hard to be introspective and deep, and, as a result, it isn’t as spectacular as it could have been if it didn’t try so hard.
Don’t get me wrong–this is an entertaining story. Mim certainly has a unique personality, and it’s often entertaining to see things from her point of view. She’s hurt and confused because she’s unsure of who she is–because everyone else is unsure of who she is–and, when she finds out the only person who really understands her is not well, she sets out on a journey to find that person.
I can sympathize with that; I really can. I know what it’s like to be judged based off of people like you, even though you’re being compared to someone who isn’t you when you’re being judged. I know what it’s like to wonder if your thoughts are yours, or if they’re your mental illness’s. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether it’s you talking, or your brain, and it’s scary not always being able to distinguish the line between the two. Mim wants to be loved and understood, and her father not only doesn’t understand her; he fears who she might become based on who Mim’s aunt Isobel became. There’s a part of her that genuinely believes she’s unlovable because of who she is as a person, and, regardless of whether or not that’s true, it’s certainly relatable. For me, at least.
But, sometimes, Mim’s narration seemed to include a jumble of big words just for the sake of sounding cool and special. Only, it didn’t; it sounded pretentious, and there were some moments I found myself sighing because it felt like Arnold wrote certain lines to sound quote-worthy rather than tell a story. And, while that’s nice, it felt like he was trying too hard sometimes.
Also, Mim makes some pretty questionable decisions (besides going on a spontaneous, cross-country roadtrip by herself). She puts her trust in several people she doesn’t know, and I found it hard to justify her decisions when I was wary about them in the first place. These people turned out to be trustworthy, thank God, but I didn’t think it was smart of her to trust them so easily. (Also, though I like Beck, I feel like wasn’t a very fleshed-out character, and I found it highly unrealistic that he would be so willing to help Mim in her quest.)
There were a few parts of the story where I was confused by what was going on, and I wasn’t sure whether to attribute that to Mim’s mental illness (which isn’t really addressed–Does she or doesn’t she have mental illness? She’s certainly unique, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she suffers from mental illness.) or to poor narration. At some points, it kind of feels like the story meanders aimlessly, which made it difficult for me to get through the second third of the book.
Yet the plot twist about Mim’s mother was clever, as was the twist about the identity of the addressee of Mim’s letters. I honestly didn’t see either of those coming, and the latter made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. (And that last scene with Mim’s mom? It was so touching, I almost added another half-star.)
So, overall, I know it sounds like I didn’t like this book, but I did. It just wasn’t what I expected. Mosquitoland was kind of like Mim herself: a little messy, unpredictable, unsure, fascinating, and equal parts foolish- and clever-sounding. For the most part, it’s a hopeful, well-written book with heart and a fighting spirit, but, in trying too hard to be unique, it loses some of its novelty. I’d say give it a go, but only if you can stomach John Green’s and David Levithan’s writing styles.