Mosquitoland, by David Arnold, a journey from despair to hope.


(Be warned –spoilers ahead)

In his debut novel, Mosquitoland, author David Arnold showcases a finely tuned talent for writing with the voice of a modern young person. He deftly drops the names of popular and imagined cultural references to his mixture to keep his story real. He sprinkles his character’s language with the requisite swear words, from the mundane to the explicit. He even produces a pervert –a child molester who preys on young people in fast food restrooms — to keep readers on our toes as we follow the story of Mary Iris Malone (Mim for short) as she journeys toward Cleveland from Mississippi. She’s on a desperate trek to reach her mother after she suddenly goes silent.

Arnold’s story has all the ingredients of a success, including a love story and a Native American character of ambiguous ethnicity (Go Viking Books for Young Readers #WeNeedDiverseBooks). Mim’s voice comes through loud and clear, as do the voices of every character in the novel. For me, however, what was less clear was Mim’s emotional center. Her problem and its resolution felt pat.

Mim’s father, newly married after a quick divorce, has moved his new family from Ohio to Mississippi, the Mosquitoland of the title. As the story unfolds through both live narration and journal entries –letters to a mysterious “Isabelle”–the reader slowly begins to uncover the depth of Mim’s pain. We learn she has been prescribed an antipsychotic drug to prevent symptoms of a mental illness. We hear about her less-than-magazine-perfect life with her parents before the divorce. We learn about her soft spot for people in need. (Mim draws people to her like honey on waffles.) In that way, Mim’s heart and Arnold’s writing shine.

Mim’s odyssey is laced with strangers and diversions, including a gay gas station owner, a cookie-scented elderly woman (grandmother of said gas station owner), a knife-wielding schizophrenic, a “devastatingly handsome” college dropout, and a homeless boy with Downs Syndrome. This lovingly drawn supporting cast charges the narrative with humor, compassion and genuine emotion. But the abrupt and seemingly complete transformation of Mim’s attitude toward her stepmother, perpetrator of all evil done to her family in the previous six months, mars the narrative.

This is a fun, emotion-packed read, and readers will thoroughly enjoy the antics and adventures of Mim and her sidekicks. It will definitely entertain young adult readers. But its emotional truth, especially for those who know what it’s like to have a family riven by betrayal or illness, misses the mark. Otherwise, the humor, romance, and characters will keep readers turning pages to the final revelation.

Violence- minimal but present

Sexual tension –innocent and believable

Questionable behavior  –minimal – other than disappearing without a trace, which of course is necessary for the story to get moving.

For Grades 7th and up.

Fantasy Throwback Review – Jordan’s (and Sanderson’s) Wheel of Time Series, well worth the investment.

Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy adventure, The Wheel of Time series, offers readers much to appreciate beyond fantasy and adventure.  Begun in 1990, and brought to its monumental conclusion fourteen volumes later in 2012 by Brandon Sanderson, a fantasy icon in his own right, this wide-ranging narrative touches on questions of free will, destiny, the nature of evil, and the power of love, all while never flagging as a wild, world-bending, fantasy.

The story follows the lives of childhood friends, Rand al’Thor, Matrin Cauthon, Perrin Aybarra, Nynaeve al’Meara, and Egwene al’Vere who flee their small village in a hinterland outpost of the kingdom of Andor, under the protection of Moiraine Damodred, an infamous channeler of the One Power. As they journey away from their home, chased by the agents of the Dark One, a being who personifies the forces of evil, these five are joined by a cast of characters as diverse and interesting in their own right that the reader is soon immersed in a world so fascinating and unusual, that the thousands of pages it takes to read their story fly by.

Wheel of timeWhat is most interesting, however, is how Jordan and later Sanderson manage to make this enormous tale feel deeply personal. With each chapter or chapter segment, they remain firmly in the head of one point-of-view character, both the evil and the honorable, offering the reader a rare glimpse into the workings of an enemy’s heart, in addition to his or her mind. As Rand and his friends move closer with each page toward the inevitable Final Battle, the authors manage to explore topics as important as life’s purpose, the question of freedom in the face of duty and destiny, and the purpose of power. At the same time, the work contains enough humor, bloody battles and flirtatious romance that it will keep even the most demanding readers happy.

Volumes have been written by fans on wikis and fan-sites to help keep the labyrinthine tale straight, so this series needs no detailed summary from me. Well worth the effort.

Violence = +++

Sexual Tension = only mildly overt. All sexual encounters occur off camera.

For readers 12 and up.