On the Bookshelf
Mosquitoland by David Arnold
“I am Mary Iris Malone, and I am not okay.”
David Arnold’s debut novel is certainly a collection of oddities, including the characters, plot points, and even locations. The book follows Mim – Mary Iris Malone – as she takes an epic journey across the country filled with crazy detours and fantastic character development. Told through a combination of journal entries, flashbacks, and a smattering of hallucinogenic episodes, it was truly a journey just to read this book. Although the changing time frames can get confusing at some points, especially near the end, it allows the reader to catch more of the messages Arnold is trying to get across. Mim’s unique voice was definitely the star of the book. Readers will love her quirky vocabulary, her conviction that Carls are “of the good sort,” and seeing the world through her left eye.
Before she even starts across the country, Mim knows she is already a hot mess. But then her life starts to fall apart even more: Mim’s parents get divorced, her dad remarries within months, and her father and new stepmother force her to move across country to Mississippi. One day, when Mim discovers her mom is suffering from some sort of illness, she finally snaps; Mim reaches into her stepmom’s drawer, pulls out a coffee can containing about $800, and hops on a Greyhound bus to Cleveland. Along the way, she runs into an interesting and strange cast of characters that leave significant impressions on Mim and the readers alike. The best part about it was that despite the uniqueness of Mim’s situation, it was easy to relate to her struggles. We all feel a little lost and alone sometimes, and perhaps we all need a crazy road trip to put things in perspective.
“I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange.” – Mim Malone (Mosquitoland)
Along the way, Mim gives a List of Reasons for her mission to Cleveland in her journal entries addressed to “Isabel.” These range from seemingly pointless entries, such as Mim’s “war paint” that she dons to help her feel powerful when she needs it, to obvious ones, such as Mim’s assertion that her mom is dying. As with any road trip, there are many detours that throw Mim off the beaten path. These detours are essential to the story; Mim realizes that a good detour is actually what the journey is all about, not just traveling from one place to another. The road trip itself was definitely unrealistic, but it didn’t matter because Mim herself was just so quirky – only the strangest of road trips would fit her character.
The cast of characters in this book is what makes Mosquitoland what it is. There is Mim’s Dad, who believes she is mentally ill and is always trying to “fix” her; Walt, an adorable teen boy with Down Syndrome; Arlene, an old woman on her own mission; and a variety of others who contribute to the story and Mim’s experiences. Each one serves a purpose which is woven into Mim’s personal journey, allowing Arnold to touch on a variety of topics such as mental illness, family ties, personal confidence, and even rape culture. The ending wraps the plot up nicely, with just enough dangling threads for readers not to feel like the story is over. Mim definitely has a lot of life left to live through, and you already know she is going to make the most of it.
This was a quirky coming-of-age story which winded through many twists and turns to create a fantastic book. Unfortunately, Mosquitoland is definitely a hit-or-miss book; readers will either love Mim and her strangeness or feel confused and bored by the story. So much happens in the space of only a few days, only a few pages, that it is impossible to get into everything, so I will leave you with this: read it. It is deep and layered enough so that you will likely consider rereading it just so that you can pick up on the minute details you missed the first time around. Whether you love it or hate it, this book is guaranteed to make you think about the world in a different way – at least as an homage to the strange awesomeness of Mim Malone.