When Mary Iris Malone (Mim) learns that her mother is sick, she steals money from her stepmother and runs away from her Jackson, Mississippi home to return to her hometown of Cleveland and be with her mom. Mim boards a Greyhound for Ohio, but her bus trip is anything but routine. With bus accidents and encounters with poncho-wearing sexual predators and homeless teenage bullies, Mim finds herself off course and eventually road tripping with Beck, a college student on a mission, and Walt, a homeless boy with Down syndrome. There are some interesting revelations at the end of the book. One involving Mim’s mom could be anticipated; the others are more surprising.
Mosquitoland has an escapist appeal, as a road trip book. It’s a story of finding friends in unexpected places. Mim has struggled with friendships her entire life, but when liberated from the normal contexts of school, family, and home, she finds she can make connections with people. Her first friend on the road is an elderly woman in sensible shoes who she initially bonds with over shoes. However, Mim’s experiences are not all carefree. She faces physical danger at a couple points, managing to escape bad situations with a combination of ingenuity and sheer dumb luck.
The biggest appeal of this book is definitely Mim herself. Mim is quirky, inquisitive, sarcastic, and fiercely loyal to her mother. We get to know her quite well between the first person narration and the letters she writes to Isabel through her journey. While Mim is loveable, she is also a brat. She steals $880 from her working class stepmom, and she has written her own family history so her mother is a wonderful bohemian capable of no wrong and her father is the anxious killjoy.
Mental illness is an important part of Mim’s story. We learn early on that Mim suffers from mental illness, like her Aunt Isabel, and this is the source of much of the tension between Mim and her father. Her dad insists on medication, which Mim does not want to take, and switches her therapist when she had already bonded with her first therapist. I appreciate that YA literature addresses mental health these days. I went through severe depression in high school, and it was a bit like spending four years as a bat. I would go to sleep the moment I got home and then wake hours later in the dark, disoriented, and I never felt like I was ever truly awake or interested in anything around me. I would have appreciated a novel like this in the early nineties.
My only real critique of this book is that Mim’s love interest is far too old for her. The relationship never gets physical, but the age difference between Mim and Beck is uncomfortable. Overall, this is a likable, smart, and fast-paced novel, which I highly recommend.
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