Mosquitoland – David Arnold

I will begin this post with a confession: The young adult section of the library and bookstores is not impressive to me. Teenaged soap operas pressed between the pages of book are not the makings of great literature.  Critical? Yes, I am.

However, I am ever the optimist. Continually I am looking over the newest offerings in the Young Adult section in hopes of finding a treasure now and then.  Recently, I grabbed Mosquitoland by David Arnold. The book synopsis gave a hint of potential. I was intrigued.

Mim, 16, is unhappy, troubled, angry. Her father and step-mother have moved her to Mississippi, hundreds of miles away from her mother. When Mim believes that her mother is ill, she grabs a coffee can full of cash, jumps on a Greyhound bus and begins a journey to find her mother. And to find herself.

Along the way Mim befriends an elderly woman, takes a boy with Down Syndrome under her wing, escapes a pedophile, and is able to drive cross country with a 21 year old boy who is ditching college. The story is told from Mim’s perspective and at times through the writing of her letters to someone named Isabel.

I wanted to like Mim and her story. I wanted this to be a story to share with my older children and have meaningful discussion about difficult topics. However, my young adults will not be reading about Mim. We often read about the difficult, hard, ugly aspects of reality. I do not present a sugar coated, cotton candy view of the world to my children. I do have my standards.

The presentation of Mim’s runaway journey is dangerous. In the “real world”, the girl doesn’t outsmart the pedophile, and that 21 year old boy is not a gentleman. In the “real world”, there isn’t some guy sitting on top of a gas station to save you when that crazed kiddo from the woods comes after you. I am not against stories about runaways. But let’s be real about how dangerous Mim’s choices were.

It did not take long to realize that language was going to be an issue. As the story progressed, the vulgarity grew. Page after page of “F” this and “F” that. I, as an adult, do not watch movies with language such as this. I think we can show teenage emotion and angst without making an R-rated book.  As I was reading, my girls and I were discussing what was happening with Mim. We were discussing the language and my oldest daughter said: “You read a book and shut the pages when the story is over. Even though the book has ended, the words you have read stay with you. They are always there, you are always thinking those words.” This, my friends, is so, so wise. You can read about “real life”, about a girl searching for meaning without bombarding the reader with crudeness and cursing.

My older girls have read books that have a bit of language in them and some intense, graphic scenes of real life. There is a balance, a grace in how it is handled. It was realistic to the setting and atmosphere. In Mosquitoland it was completely overdone and almost used as the only means to show Mim’s feelings.

A quick look at Amazon will show high ratings for Mosquitoland. I am, apparently, in the minority.  I am ok with that. I truly wanted  Mim’s story to be powerful and meaningful. It just wasn’t. If you have read Mosquitoland, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Mim and her story.

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