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.

2015 – 2016 Roll Call for VCA

While we school year round, I do try to acknowledge the beginning of a “new” year. We tend to flow from one book or one level to the next as needed. Living in a world that seems to qualify everything based on age and/or grade, it is always nice to give my children a reminder of their current “grade”.  A convenient bit knowledge when questioned by random strangers at the checkout counter. I must confess, however, that this yearly transition to a new grade gives me the opportunity to torture, um, snap quick photos of my kiddos.  It is one of my favorite past times.

My High School Crew!!!

Rebekah – 11th Grade

Mary – 10th Grade

My Middle School Crew!

Caleb – 8th Grade

Lydia – 7th Grade

My Elementary Superstars!

Hannah – 4th Grade

Sarah – 2nd Grade

Sam – Kindergarten

My Cutie Pie Class!

Martha Ann – Preschool

Ezra – Toddler Tornada

And I can’t leave out the Teacher’s Pet!

 

When we decided to homeschool so many years ago, I never imagined having a span of kiddos from 16 years to 15 months. So thankful for the unexpected. The days are passing too quickly…

Black Dove, White Raven

Black Dove, White Raven is the latest young adult fiction novel by Elizabeth Wein. Once again Wein grips us with the story of two young people facing challenging circumstances. After a stunt flying accident, Emilia and Teo become more than friends; they become sister and brother. Teo’s mom dies in the plane accident and Rhoda (Emilia’s mom) takes him as her adopted son. In the 1930s such an act of love was not widely accepted as Emilia is white and Teo is black.

To fulfill the dream of Teo’s mother, Rhoda brings Emilia and Teo to Ethiopia, the home of Teo’s deceased father. Here there was hope that the color of her children’s skin would not be an issue for their family. Emilia and Teo both come to love the land of Ethiopia, a beautiful, peaceful country. Things quickly change when Italy threatens war.

The war becomes personal for Emilia and Teo as they are both unwillingly drawn into the conflict. What does this war mean for their lives in Ethiopia? Will their family be torn apart? What will Teo’s Ethiopian heritage mean for his future?

I must make a confession. I attempted to read Black Dove, White Raven several times. I would read a page or two and put it to the side. For some reason the story was not engaging me or capturing my interest. Then I told myself to trust the author. Wein had weaved a beautiful, bittersweet story in Code Name: Verity and Rose Under Fire. Their stories were complete so I needed to shift my mind to a new story.

As I picked up the book again, I found myself gently pulled into Emilia’s and Teo’s lives. This book leads you a bit slower with a gentle pull to the depths of Emilia and Teo. This slower paced pull flows beautifully with the the land of Ethiopia during this time period. Before you realize it, their story has gripped you. And not just their story but the Ethiopian people as well. In all my studies and readings in history, this war between Ethiopia and Italy in the 1930s had never been encountered. My view of Ethiopia has been challenged and broaden by Black Dove, White Raven.

I definitely recommend adding this to your To Be Read pile or as a good addition for history readings for your teen. All three of my teens read Black Dove, White Raven (16, 15, & 13). My two daughters were familiar with Wein’s writings and agree that this is another well done book. My son’s reading of Black Dove was his first encounter with Wein’s writings and he was left speechless when he was done. Thank you Elizabeth Wein for another amazing read.

Have your read Black Dove, White Raven? I’d love to hear your thoughts!