David Arnold
ISBN 9780451470775
Viking, 2015.
4 ½ stars
Keywords: david-arnold family mental-health mosquitoland road-trip stepfamilies

by David Arnold

David Arnold's accomplished debut novel is not your average road trip story. Readers will immediately take to 16-year-old narrator Mary Iris Malone and to the seamless mix of humor and pathos in this moving tale of her quest to save her mother.

In the first chapter, Mim overhears her father and his new wife telling her principal that Mim's mother will "beat this disease." "Disease?" Mim thinks, then flees the school for the Greyhound station in Jackson, Miss. (aka Mosquitoland), to board the next bus to her mother in Ohio. Between the letters Mim writes to her father's sister, Isabel, and the details she confides to her kindly elderly seatmate, readers learn that Mim's parents' divorce has been final for three months, and that her father married Kathy six weeks ago. Flashbacks provide key clues to Mim's motives and current circumstances. For one thing, she's been prescribed Abilitol, "this mutant word, this tragic portmanteau, the unnatural marriage of two roots as different as different could be," Mim thinks. "And do you, Ability, take Vitriol to be your lawfully wedded suffix?" Readers learn that Mim's family has a history of psychosis, and Abilitol is a common prescription to treat psychotic conditions. When Mim discovers letters from her mother hidden inside a coffee can, Mim wonders if Kathy is purposely keeping her from her mother.

Arnold skillfully sets up doubts in readers' minds about how reliable Mim's impressions are, even as her razor-sharp humor and intelligence make us want to believe her. David Arnold is a writer to watch.

This review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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