Road Trip!!! That is what I think whenever I read the book jacket on any book that has a road trip in it. Unless the subject matter is super heavy and raising my arms high in the air and yelling, even in my mind, just isn't the appropriate response. But I certainly thought it when reading the synopsis of David Arnold's Mosquitoland. Plus it is YA, which made me even more excited.
The Situation: Sixteen year-old Mary Iris Malone, or Mim, is not okay. It is the first thing she tells you about herself before proceeding to explain how she ended up on a Greyhound bus headed to Cleveland, approximately 947 miles away from where she lives in Mississippi. In between explanations to the reader, Mim is also writing a letter to Isabel, explaining the situation to her as well. Skipping school, stealing travel money from her stepmother Kathy, buying a ticket, and boarding the bus will all prove to be the easy part. But Mim is determined to make it to Cleveland by Labor Day to see her mother. She has had enough of not getting straight answers from her father and Kathy, and the hole she feels left behind by her mother has become too much to bear.
The Problem: Before Mim has even boarded the bus, she has an encounter with an incredibly creepy and intense guy in a poncho. And of course he is getting on the same bus, so it isn't just phone calls from her worried stepmother that Mim will be avoiding. Actually, Mim would love to avoid interactions with people altogether, but the trip is full of meeting and getting close to strangers. And while some of those interactions are absolutely horrible, others are quite nice, and many are full of surprises. To get to Cleveland, Mim will have to deal with villains like Poncho Man and Caleb, while also learning to trust and open up to the heroes, like Beck, Walt, Ahab, and the Pale Whale. One of the many lessons she will learn is that people are often complex: villains are not completely evil, and the heroes are hardly ever completely good. Currently, all she knows about herself is that she is not okay, and she certainly isn't satisfied to live her life in Mississippi, away from her mom.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction novel that follows the narrator, Mim, from Mississippi to Cleveland, with plenty of detours, planned and unplanned, along the way. Mim is 16 and currently on prescription drugs for possibly the same condition that her Aunt Isabel had. Because this is her father's worst fear, he insists that Mim stay on her meds, one of the many things he and Mim's mom did not agree on prior to and after the divorce. But even while on the meds, Mim still decides to skip town with little more than a wad of cash, a backpack, journal, and a few spare shirts. And while not every road trip immediately qualifies as epic - pure distance does not, in my mind, make for an adventure - Mim's certainly fulfills that qualification. There are creepers, shadow men, tire blow outs, honky tonks, ice cream challenges, seedy motels, and side missions galore. But even through all of this, something Mim never once considers is the possibility of admitting defeat and returning back to Mississippi, a place she has not-so-affectionately come to think of as Mosquitoland. Mim is on an odyssey with one mission, and that is to get home and see her mom.
My Verdict: This is a great book. It is just as simple as that. Great characters, even better narrator, wonderful premise, and near flawless execution. Mim is a fantastic narrator while still being an obviously imperfect one. And the actual trip up north has all of the frustrations and complications that you would expect in an epic journey, but they aren't thrown in carelessly or seemingly without reason. Some are certainly uncomfortable, and others will make you anxious for the journey to move forward. But each diversion serves a greater purpose and lesson, and always introduces another hero or villain. And while some books that switch back and forth between letters and narrative can get to be tiresome, that did not happen for me with Mosquitoland. Mim's letters to Isabel were just as crucial to the story as the parts where she is speaking directly to the reader, and I never felt like either part dragged.
Favorite Moment: When Mim is able to call her misplaced epiglottis into action and vomit on command at just the right time. It sounds gross, but trust me, it is oh so satisfying when it happens.
Favorite Character: Mim is my kind of narrator. She says what so many heroines in other YA novels won't say, which always causes more trouble for them. Granted, often when Mim speaks up there is still trouble, but she doesn't have so much junk bottled up inside, which works for her because there is plenty of other stuff for her to deal with. She's funny, brave, and willing to say that she is not okay. She also presses people and asks the hard questions because she values answers and honesty.
Favorite Quotes: "Later in life, it would occur to me that this was the ultimate dichotomy: for a person to want what's best but draw from their worst."
"I am a child. I know nothing about anything. And even less about everything."
"Because even though honesty is hard, you really have to murder people with it if you expect to be a person of any value at all."
Recommended Reading: I think Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira would work well with this one, as would Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys.