There’s nothing I like better than a road trip…or, if I can’t head out of town at the moment, a good road trip novel. I don’t know if you would call the epic road trip at the heart of teen/YA novel Mosquitoland by David Arnold a good road trip, but it is certainly a good novel with a very likable narrator and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip as I listened on audio.
You know, right from the first page, that sixteen-year old Mim, short for Mary Iris Malone, has some serious problems. Her parents recently split up, her father remarried Kathy soon after, and the three of them moved from their home in Ohio all the way to Jackson, MS, which Mim has nicknamed Mosquitoland. With all this turmoil, it’s no wonder that Mim has been summoned to the principal’s office of her new school for a meeting with her dad and Kathy. Just outside the door, however, she overhears their conversation and learns that her mother is sick in Cleveland.
Sick? Her beloved mother? Mim is devastated, not only by the news but by the fact that they didn’t tell her. So, rather than enter the principal’s office for her meeting, she turns around and leaves the school grounds. She walks home, grabs a few essentials in a backpack, and heads to the Greyhound bus station, where she buys a ticket with Kathy’s secret cash stash and begins her journey northward.
The rest of the novel focuses on that journey, from Mississippi to Ohio, which if you’ve been on a US road trip yourself, you know is a long way, both geographically and otherwise. Along the way, she meets a lot of people – some kind, some strange, and some downright dangerous. These quirky characters populate the novel, alongside Mim’s sharp wit and honest observations, as she makes an important emotional journey, alongside her physical one.
What makes this novel so engaging is Mim’s unique voice. The entire book is written as a series of letters or journal entries, though it isn’t clear at first to whom she is writing. As she observes the people around her and tells the convoluted tale of her travels, she also fills in small details about herself and her history. In this way, Mim’s full story only gradually becomes clear. Besides sounding like a classic snarky teen at times, Mim is also heart-breakingly honest, as she tries to unravel the twisted pieces of her life that led her to the dreaded Mosquitoland.
One reviewer described Mim’s narration as “kaleidoscopic,” which I thought was a perfect description (which I’d thought of it myself!). Her letters are often a sort of stream of consciousness, and you often don’t completely understand what she’s talking about until later in the story. In this way, the book is sometimes a bit confusing, but in a way that makes you want to know more. Perhaps it would be less so when reading the printed book rather than listening to audio, though the audio production was very well done.
All in all, this is a compelling story of a journey made by a young girl to save her mother and better understand her own life. Both her mother’s and father’s histories affect her in ways she doesn’t understand at first but that become clear as she works out her thoughts and memories on paper. This is a unique, engaging story that kept me riveted until all the pieces fell into place, and both Mim and I finally understood.