Did you ever try to run away from home as a kid? For some reason I'm reminded of a Peanuts comic strip, and Linus tying his belongings up in his blanket and hanging it on the end of a stick. Personally, I guess I never had a good enough reason. My parents may not have been perfect but I always knew I was loved, which I guess is why I never made it past the corner the one time I can remember trying. And if I remember correctly, Linus didn't make it very far either. But maybe not everyone had it as good as he and I did.
Sixteen-year old Mary Iris Malone, otherwise known as Mim, is so unique that she's an anomaly. After her parent's divorce she's in Mississippi with her dad when she discovers her mom is all alone back in Cleveland battling some disease, so she swipes her new step-mother's coffee can full of money and hops a Greyhound for Ohio. Of course, she doesn't tell anyone – she just impulsively sets off for her objective. But there are interesting people on the bus, like the old lady who smells like cookies and clutches a wooden box; Carl the bus driver whose "Carl-ness" is unquestionable; the extra-friendly "Poncho Man"; and the devastatingly handsome 17C. And the trip turns out to have some interesting twists, as well as some unexpected friendships.
Okay, I know – that's about the blandest book summary in the history of the world, and doesn't begin to sum up the surprisingly interesting and compelling Mosquitoland
by David Arnold. Once I got started I had a hard time putting it down. (The problem was that it's 350 pages and I don't have as much time to read as I used to, but I still stayed up late with it a couple of nights.) As you might have guessed, this is one of those books where all the characters are damaged in some way, starting with Mim who is bitter over her parent's divorce, her father's remarriage (to the waitress at Denny's!), and having to move 1,000 miles away from her life. The characters are all endearingly quirky with a bitingly sarcastic wit, which seems to be de rigueur these days for YA. Then you throw them out on the open road with all its dangers, toss in some even quirkier characters (like a gay ninja, just for kicks), and we just can't help but hope for their success while we mourn as all the damages they've piled up in their short but dramatic lives are gradually revealed. Sigh... yes, it's somewhat formulaic but it appeals to the teenager in us, whether or not we're still in those teen years.
Honestly, I wanted to hate this book (after I started it, that is – no one in their right mind picks up a book that looks interesting and wants to hate it). I wanted to hate it because of the profanity, which is mostly the f-word (and is probably used somewhere north of a hundred times in those 350 pages). I know, some kids talk that way and some readers won't object, but when the book is advertised for "12 and up" I'd like to think I could take that at face-value. As a dad I can't recommend this to my 12 year old, and am wondering if I will recommend it to my 16 year old. (Other than the language, there aren't any 'situations' I found objectionable.) And yet I have to admit, I liked the characters – at least the one's you're supposed to like – and loved the ending (which was a bit predictable, but not completely). It's well-written (the author is great at foreshadowing!) and pulls you in with a grip that doesn't let go, even clinging to you after finishing the last page, wishing you could spend a little more time with these people. I just wish for a cleaner "children's" book. (I received an advance copy from Amazon Vine.)