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Book review: Quirky teenager's journey brings growth in 'Mosquitoland'
"Mosquitoland" is a novel by David Arnold. - photo by Ginny Romney
"MOSQUITOLAND," by David Arnold, Viking Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 352 pages (f) (ages 14 and up)

Mary Iris Malone, or more commonly known by her "acroname" Mim, travels from Mississippi to Ohio to rescue her mother in David Arnolds debut novel, the young adult tale "Mosquitoland," but changes her outlook on life in the miles she journeys by bus, truck and foot.

Mim, a 16-year-old girl with a tenuous grip on reality, is still reeling from her parents' divorce three months ago and her quickly acquired stepmother. After listening outside the principals office door, Mim finds out her mother is sick, prompting her to ditch school, steal a jar of cash from her house and flee the state on a Greyhound bus in an attempt to save her mother.

Chapters are mostly narrated by Mim but are occasionally broken up by the letters she writes in a stick-figure journal to a person named Iz. The layered narrative adds depth to the story as Mim teases information and then finally reveals all her thoughts over the course of the book.

The tale is tightly woven, with details coming full circle and characters leaving (sometimes regrettably) lasting impacts on one another.

Along her journey, Mim meets a diverse cast, from a kindly old lady named Arlene she sits next to on the bus, to Walt, a homeless kid with Down syndrome she meets under a Kentucky underpass, to Beck, the attractive college student in seat 17C. These characters come with their own "objectives," which are added to Mims mother-saving-quest.

Every great character, Iz, be it on page or screen is multidimensional, Mim writes in her stick-figure journal. The good guys arent all good, the bad guys arent all bad, and any character wholly one or the other shouldnt exist at all.

The statement, made near the beginning of the novel, is revisited as Mim finds almost every person she meets has good and bad qualities.

Arnold gives his heroine a strong, intelligent voice, albeit one with a profanity-laced vocabulary. He isnt afraid to make his character flawed and Mim, aware of her frailty, finds the need to revise some of her thoughts on life.

Some of the themes are heavy Mims journey across miles of highway gives her time to ruminate on abandonment, death, first love, the existence of God and mental illness, among other subjects.

With every character who joins Mims band of misfits, the narrative becomes more of a meandering travelogue, but the story never loses sight of Mims main objective.

Mosquitoland has frequent and strong profanity and allusions to infidelity and a sexual assault. There is some generally described violent, disturbing scenes, including a bus crash where characters die or are injured, and one character finds another character who has committed suicide.