Book Review: Mosquitoland, by David Arnold

grasshopperIn the spirit of Kerouac’s On the Road and Dicken’s David Copperfield, author David Arnold has recently published his debut novel Mosquitoland (Viking/Penguin 2015). I downloaded the audio book in a rush to find something to pass the time in my frequent trips to Cleveland (a city that becomes a kind of New Jerusalem in the novel) and I must say that it is one of the most intriguing and challenging books I have read in a while. Okay, literally it is not so challenging because it is a teen book, but its themes are biggies, among them: family dysfunction and redemption; friendship and eros; mental illness; suicide and child abuse. I think, however, the major theme is pilgrimage, a perennial Christian theme. And this brings us to the story line…

A sixteen year old girl named Mary Iris Malone (affectionately known as “Mim”) leaves home (Jackson, Mississippi “Mosquitoland”) in search of her recently divorced mother, currently living in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll spare you all the eccentric friends and enemies she makes along the way, but her trip becomes a real pilgrimage of love and meaning. In her adventures Mim survives a major bus accident, escapes a pervert, and befriends a homeless boy with Downs Syndrome. Throughout her journey the need for meeting the real needs of real people comes out forcefully. At the root of the drama is the almost obsessive insistence by Mim’s father that she needs medication and psycho-therapy, an insistence she constantly rebels against. What she really needs in the first place (no surprise) is affection and understanding (and also medication). The author remarks that Mim is not a role model to literally imitate, and some of the themes (especially the sexual themes, though not graphically portrayed) make Mosquitoland, in my opinion, much more an adult rather than young adult read. Particularly, I would recommend it to any professional who deals with young people in our post-modern today.

Here is an interesting interview with the author on the book, well worth the five minutes:

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