Sunday, April 26, 2015

"Mosquitoland": An over the top, epic, coming of age YA journey

Sometimes less is more.  Sometimes more is more.  David Arnold's debut YA novel, Mosquitoland lands in the realm of more and sometimes it works brilliantly, and other times it just feels like too much.

I greatly enjoyed the fresh narrative voice of 16 year old Mim (Mary Iris Malone) who we find out in Chapter 1 is "not okay." Why is she not okay? Goodness.  That's a tougher question than you think.  She's on a journey to find her mother, who she stopped receiving letters from after her parents got divorced, and she moved (against her will) with her dad and step-mother, Kathy, to Mississippi (she calls her new home Mosquitoland).  After she stops receiving letters from her mother and she overhears the principal having a conversation with her dad and step-mom, she decides to board a bus and find out what is going out with her mother who she believes needs her help.  The novel follows her archetypal theory journey to Cleveland to find out what's going on with her mother.  Along the way she becomes a reluctant hero, encounters threshold guardians, shape shifters, villains, and sidekicks.

There's so much to love about this book.  Mim's take on life is both vibrant and heart wrenching.  She sees things very differently than most 16 year old girls, but it was hard for me to shake the fact that her voice was much more of a 30 something David Arnold than of a 16 year old girl.  She's a flawed hero who is struggling with her mental illness diagnosis and her need for Abilitol as well as her epiglottis issues (which cause her to vomit at inopportune times).  She has an uncanny knack for sensing danger and understanding how to get in it and out of it.

Along with the dangers of a 16 year old attractive in an Ellen Page sort of way traveling alone with an interesting and creepy array of fellow bus mates, she also finds a bit of romance in the form of the James Dean-like character Beck, who just happens to appear at just the right moment during her perilous journey (as all good James Dean-like romantic characters do).

The addition of too many characters might be the downfall of this book.  Herein lies the more is not always better issue. Too many tragedies take place along the journey including a tragic accident, a pedophile, a knife wielding thug, and strange gas station owners.  Those aren't the only tragedies that Mim is dealing with, though.  She also needs to deal with her romantic feelings towards a too old Beck, her protective mothering instincts for Walt, her parent's divorce, her own mental illness, and the big incident in her past that her parents believe sent her over the edge.  Sometimes too much is too much, ya know?

Arnold's debut is getting great reviews, and I don't want to urge others not to read it, but maybe to read it as a hero's journey tale with elements of fantasy (even if it is supposed to be realistic fiction).  It's a book that was almost great, but ended up just being good for me because Arnold over did it.  I still think I will be excited to read whatever he writes next.

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