Having read and fallen in love with David Arnold’s other book, Kids of Appetite, I’ve got to say that reading this book is a huge disappointment.
I’m glad this wasn’t the first book I picked up by him because I’m pretty sure it would have been my last.
What this book got wrong:
- The protagonist. Mim Malone is… she’s unlikable. Not the in the “so unlikable she actually turns likable” way, but in the “I can’t find a single thing I like about you” kind of way. She’s sarcastic, and mean, and headstrong, and these are usually traits I don’t mind in a character, but in Mim, I couldn’t see a motivation for her to be all these things. I couldn’t understand her, because she doesn’t tell us either. Not to mention, Mim is pretty ignorant… and doesn’t care. She likes to only see what’s convenient for her, and if other people point out that she’s wrong, she gets mad, she – you guessed it- lashes out and hurts people. Mim didn’t even feel like a real person, I felt like she was always monologuing these deep philosophical thoughts that didn’t seem to be true to her character at all.
- This book has a way of making the writing feel too poetic. I had to reread a lot of parts because when I thought the author was using a fancy metaphor, it turns out he wasn’t. For example, it took me a while to figure out that a metaphor about falling and feeling like flying or whatever wasn’t a metaphor after all, but AN ACTUAL CAR CRASH. It didn’t sink in until a couple of pages later when we see the aftermath.
- The book’s plot really went all over the place. I understand the overall message, but the plot itself? It was so messy. No coherence between scenes, it seemed to jump from one point to the next, and Mim herself didn’t help because she didn’t know how to make decisions. She would just let things happen and wait for the pieces to fall where they may. I was actually pretty surprised that she didn’t end up dying or something because she didn’t think about her actions before doing them.
… and you know, despite all these things, I could have maybe found something about the book that I enjoyed had it not been for some errors that I really think are unacceptable.
Things I can’t forgive:
- Mim has this ritual where she takes her mom’s lipstick and uses it to draw “war paint” on her face. She states that she’s 1/6th (I don’t even remember… just a really small fraction) Cherokee and that she gets to do that even though she’s not sure if she’s doing it right because of her heritage. I’m not Cherokee, so I can’t say if the ritual is indeed good or not, but to me it felt offensive. It’s like she was saying “look, I don’t care if what I’m doing hurts you. I don’t care to learn about it either, just let me do it because I’m also Cherokee”. This seems to me like cultural appropriation (correct me if I’m wrong).
- There’s a large fraction of this book that talks about mental illness that I think was poorly executed. Mim is diagnosed with a certain mental illness by a psychiatrist. However she decides that she doesn’t have the illness. She decides to stop taking her pills because obviously her dad is just “paranoid” and that he’ll realize that she’s not really sick. She even goes so far as to extensively finding faults in her psychiatrist and comes to the conclusion that he’s just a bad doctor. I think this should have been handled with more tact. Even if Mim did not have a mental illness, this attitude towards having one and towards seeking medical help is unacceptable and hurtful to those who suffer from mental illness.
- The last thing, and possibly the worst of all for me, is the way a secondary character is treated. This secondary character’s name is Walt, and he has down-syndrome. Mim meets him on her trip, and they form a friendship between them. However, there’s this particular scene that really destroyed any esteem I held for Mim (or this book). In this scene, Walt gets sick, and do to it being a holiday, there are no other doctors available except a 24-hour animal clinic. So, they take Walt there, and when they come out, this lovely conversation happens:
Beck smiles down at him. “We totally just took Walt to the vet.”
“Yeaaaah, to be fair, he is kind of our pet, though.”
WHAT?! Did I seriously just read that a character referred to a supposed friend of theirs as their pet??? This is VERY offensive. This small little quote is supposed to be seen as a joke, but I’m not laughing. After this point I guess I kept reading in hopes of seeing Mim finally own up and say “wow I was wrong to call him a pet, because he’s a person, and having down-syndrome doesn’t make him any less of a person” but I can’t recall ever seeing this happen. I even hoped that Beck (the love interest) who was with her when she said it would set her straight, but no, he thought it was a joke too.
Overall, Mosquitoland tried to be original and funny and unique by having lots of different elements in hopes that it would succeed. It didn’t. On the contrary, the story reads as messy, disjointed, and weak with an unlikable main character and lots of problematic elements. I can’t recommend this at all.
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If you want to know more about the bad Cherokee representation in this book, you can check out Debbie Reese’s review in the American Indians in Children’s Literature website, which the author also responds to.