Mosquitoland is a debut novel by David Arnold. It chronicles a few days in the life of Mary Iris Malone (commonly known as Mim to everyone except her absent mother). Mim has had a lot of troublesome changes in her life recently. Her Father and Mother divorced and suddenly, within three months, he was remarried to Kathy, a server that he met at Denny’s. Now Mim has overheard a shocking conversation between her Father, Kathy, and her principal – Mim’s mother is suffering from some disease in Ohio and they aren’t going to tell Mim about it yet. Mim decides that she has to see her mother even if it means jumping states. She nicks Kathy’s stash of cash, purchases a greyhound ticket, and travel from her new home in Jackson Mississippi (which she has dubbed Mosquitoland) to Cleveland Ohio. She hopes that she will be in time to see her mother.
Throughout this book Mim displays a variety of coping mechanisms. She writes in a journal to a woman named Iz, who is not explained until later in the book. Mim also carries her Mother’s tube of lipstick, applying it to her face in a controversial display of warpaint to connect to her Mother’s Cherokee heritage. Between solar retinopathy (blindness from staring at the sun too long) and a displaced epiglottis (symptom: sporadic vomiting) she has a lot of physical ailments that enhance her mental ones. She suffers from periodic psychotic episodes and has been receiving treatment from a few different doctors, the most recent having prescribed the drug Aripiprazole (Abilify). Mim treats the Abilify like a daily habit because her father told her she must take it, but what happens when she halves the dose, or gives it up completely?
Along the trip Mim meets a diverse cast of characters, but none so special as Walt and Beck. Walt is a man who she meets under a bridge, a man with (I believe) down syndrome whose father abandoned him to the wild when his mother passed away. Beck is a man who Mim finds herself attracted to, a man who turns up later in her adventure. Both make a big impact on Mim, a young woman who is journeying in the name of family while, somehow, falling backwards into one.
I found this book to be completely absorbing, something that I had a hard time putting down. I found Arnold’s treatment of Mim’s potentially degrading mental health to be on-point and sensitively handled. I think that Mim has had a hard hand dealt to her in life. Between her parent’s crumbling marriage, a hint of alcoholism, and the suggestion of abuse she has a lot to overcome. The fact that she has developed any of her coping mechanisms make sense to me – Mim is trying to establish her own identity in the midst of chaos. She is sixteen and her entire (fragile) world has fallen apart. She herself is a series of behaviours that make up an intriguing and beautifully characterized young woman who I identified with completely. I don’t think David Arnold could have designed a character that I keyed into (at 16) so much unless he has delved into my own mind and past and pulled her out of me. Wow, does she ring true for me.
As to her mental health – I don’t know if I believe that Mim has any sort of disorders save one – Oppositional Defiant Disorder. From what I have read, ODD shows up in children who have negative parenting experiences, often months after a specific catalyst incident occurs. The time period befits this narrative and Mim shows many of the signs throughout the book – she is angry and irritable, an inability to conform to the rules or to suggested social norms, aggressive and argumentative…this is all Mim in a nutshell. She softens throughout the book, particularly with the introduction of Walt, who is such a perfect marvel of a character that he made me smile with practically every interaction. But, boiled down to a broth, these characteristics are Mim and it makes sense why she acts, and reacts, the ways that she does.
I adored this book. I loved the tone and the journey. I bought the authenticity of Mim and the random roads that made up her travel. It is not unlike the roads that one journeys from childhood into reluctant adulthood. Arnold nailed so much of this book, even right down to the detours. I can’t even begin to explain how much I love Mim. She’s the fierce teenage warrior that I only hoped I was at her age.
5 out of 5 stars. So much love!
– Follow the Reader –