Booksource Book Club invites you to read along with us. Every month or so (depending on the size of the book) a group of us book nerds gather to talk about a book we’ve all read. Now we want you to join in the fun! We’ll start by giving you an update of our last book talk and let you know our next pick. Please join the conversation by commenting with your thoughts.
In April, we discussed Mosquitoland by David Arnold. Here’s what we thought:
This young adult travelogue-meets-bildungsroman kicks off in a hurry as protagonist Mary Iris Malone, known by her closest friends and family by her “acroname” Mim, runs away from her home in Jackson, Mississippi, on a Greyhound bus heading for Cleveland.
A spirited, if unreliable, narrator, Mim is headstrong, intuitive and rash. She wears vintage shoes from Goodwill, listens to vinyl and draws “war paint” on her face with an old tube of lipstick when she needs a boost. She struggles with her mental health and takes Abilify every morning, at the insistence of her father and new psychiatrist. She is Mary Iris Malone, and she is not okay.
After finding out some BREAKING NEWS about her father and stepmother, Mim takes a coffee can full of cash from her stepmother’s dresser and sets off on an adventure to see her mother. Hoping to spend Labor Day with her mother for the first time since her parents’ divorce and the move to Jackson that followed, Mim throws on her red hoodie and boards a Greyhound alone.
On the way to Cleveland, Mim meets a cast of characters whose personalities range from bizarre to predictable, genuine to sinister. Mim learns valuable lessons from each character she meets on the road, chronicling them in the journal she keeps in her backpack. Throughout the book, Mim’s snap judgments about the characters she encounters are constantly tested as the characters reveal more about themselves.
At the end of the novel, not only is Mim 947 miles away from Jackson, but her understanding of the world and people around her has become richer and more nuanced in light of all the discoveries she made during her journey. She grows up considerably in this weekend of travel, making new friends and learning more about the family she ran away from.
As a book club, we liked Mim’s spunk. She may not behave or speak like a typical 16-year-old girl, but her voice is so singular and her mission so clear that we found ourselves rooting for her despite some concerns we had with the book as a whole.
For example, we debated the appropriateness of the suggested age range for Mosquitoland. Its publisher suggests that it can be read by 7th– to 12th-graders, but we felt the book is more suited for a high school reader, due to some mature and graphic content.
We agreed that Mosquitoland makes a great jumping-off point for debates. Mental health, family and friendship are all topics Mim looks at from multiple angles as she grows over the course of the book. As she writes in her journal, “Every great character … be it on page or screen, is multidimensional. The good guys aren’t all good, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and any character wholly one or the other shouldn’t exist at all.”
Mim may not think all of her choices through, but that’s what makes her such an intriguing narrator. We may not agree with her actions, but we empathize with her motivations.
In the world of David Arnold’s debut novel, there is no good and there is no bad; there’s only complicated. And that’s what makes Mosquitoland a worthwhile read.
If you’ve read Mosquitoland, we’d love to hear what you have to say about it! Leave your comments below and make sure to join us next month as we discuss picture books. We’ll be reading: