Book Review: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mim Malone heads out on the road after she feels like her family has imploded.  Now living in Mississippi, Mim learns her real mother is sick back in Cleveland, so she decides to go see her.  A Greyhound bus, a cast of colorful characters, and a slew of mishaps await Mim on her journey.

David Arnold’s novel is garnering all sorts of accolades, and while there are things here that are done well, there are problematic elements to the novel that make it hard to sing its praises wholeheartedly.  Certainly Arnold has crafted a novel with memorable characters and a compelling plot.  For a debut, there is some genuine moments of insightful commentary on growing up, mental illness, and much more.  But the book’s issues overshadow many of its good qualities.

First, readers must consider the cultural appropriation that runs rather rampant throughout the book.  When faced with stress, Mim paints her face with lipstick and refers to it as “warpaint.”  She dismisses this problem by claiming she is “part” Cherokee.  This is disconcerting, but so is the depiction of Walt, a boy with Down Syndrome who Mim meets along her journey.  There are moments where his characterization toes the line of being a stock character, serving as inspiration for Mim.  There’s a throwaway line about Walt being like a pet that doesn’t go down so easy, either.

Some readers will dismiss these small parts of the story as not worthy of dismissing the story as a whole, and while that might be true, they are also elements that should be considered and discussed.  There’s plenty of good stuff here, and Arnold is certainly an author to watch.  The weakest parts of the novel draw away from what is otherwise an inventive tale.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold. Viking Children’s: 2015. Library copy read for the Cybils.

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