Mim Malone is not okay. After divorcing her mother, her father moved her 947 miles away to live with his new wife, Kathy. Mim Malone is not the sort to take such an act lying down. When the letters and calls from her mother mysteriously stop, and she hears whispers that she’s sick, it becomes clear it’s time for her to take action. She steals a tin of money from her new stepmother and runs away.
Spoiler alert: the journey from Mississippi to Cleveland isn’t exactly smooth.
I have been putting off reviewing Mosquitoland, by David Arnold. It’s one of those I have intensely mixed feelings about. By the end I felt exhilarated by having read it, but during I often felt frustrated.
Engaging and interesting characters were often left floundering in weak and melodramatic plot. On the other hand, throughout are scattered moments of perfection that brought tears to my eyes.
Like I said: feelings mixed.
No matter my opinions on the direction of the plot, Mim was a great protagonist. She’s funny but haunted, desperate for independence but hopelessly immature. She thinks she knows everything but she hasn’t got a clue.
There is something very authentic to her voice that I connected with immediately. It was that connection that kept me going through the more… unlikely moments of the book.
Let’s get something straight – I like a fast paced book. That said, this one is a little too fast paced. Within the first half, Mim has introduced us to her parents’ divorce and her father’s subsequent remarriage, hinted at her mental health problems, run away from home, gotten into a bus crash and then encountered both a child molester and a psychopath (the latter being one of the weakest moments of the novel). Honestly none of that even really counts as a spoiler because it’s less than half the book and doesn’t really matter to the central narrative, which to me, was all about Mim’s relationship with her parents.
The story is told through both first person narration and the letters Mim writes to the mysterious Isobel. Through the letters in particular, we are given snap shots of Mim’s relationships with both her mum and her dad. Her mum is undoubtedly the fun one. She wants to give Mim the freedom to explore the world and take risks. Her dad on the other hand… not so much. In the early stages of the book Mim’s dad is painted as a boring homewrecker who would rather medicate his daughter than deal with her. Through her letters though, Mim gradually starts to see him as someone else. Someone who made his choices based on fear. They were bad choices, and the damage they caused couldn’t be denied, but they didn’t come from a place of wanting to cause hurt.
It was this thread about her parents where the plot fell down again though, I felt. It’s difficult to go into without major spoilers, but essentially, Mim finds some letters from her mother than play a large part in her decision to run away. There was something about the letters that felt weak to me. They come into play in what is – I think – supposed to be the biggest plot twist of the book, but it’s one that I saw coming a mile off.
Again, my feelings about the plot twist were mixed. Yes, I saw it coming from pretty much the outset, but that wasn’t necessarily detrimental to my experience of reading the book. One of the book’s great strengths is Mim’s innocence. She has everything wrong, and watching her realise that is heart breaking and intense reading. I loved it, and knowing it before she did didn’t affect my reading experience whatsoever. However the handling of the actual moments of revelation were just… poor. They were obvious in such a way that they made Mim, a smart girl, look pretty stupid, which is a disservice to her character because it’s not true at all.
Like I said before, frustrating.
I hate to tack this on the end – as usual I have spent my entire review obsessing over the details – but this would feel incomplete if I didn’t mention Mim’s co-stars. Walt, a homeless boy with Downs Syndrome and Beck, a cute photographer on the run from college, were everything that Mim needed. I loved how they were drawn together by their being lost and the way David Arnold completed their storyline was perfect.
The end of this book is my favourite part. There is an exchange on the final page that made every eyebrow-raising moment worth it.
It’s a mixed bag this one – it’ll bring out all your feelings, for better or worse. It’ll definitely keep you engaged until the end.