[REVIEW] Mosquitoland – David Arnold

Characters – 5/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 5/5
Setting – 4/5
Overall – 5/5

“Every great character, Iz, be it on page or screen, is multidimensional. The good guys aren’t all good, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and any character wholly one or the other shouldn’t exist at all. Remember this when I describe the antics that follow, for though I am not a villain, I am not immune to villainy.”

Being called out of class isn’t exactly a new one on Mim, but overhearing the principle discussing her mother’s deteriorating health with her father and step-monster certainly is. And it’s the last straw. Dragged 1,000 miles away to live in Mississippi when her parents divorced, Mim decides it’s about time she made good on her plans to visit her mum in Ohio. Stealing all the money in the house she can find, Mim jumps on the next Greyhound bus and sets off into the world to make things right.

MOSQUITOLAND has a simple but fast-paced plot that is built around the characters Mim encounters on her journey to find her mother. Making plenty of friends and enemies on the way to her mother, Mim’s story is one of humanity and, like all good road trips, figuring out where she stands on family, friends and matters of the heart (in all their incarnations). I never knew what was coming next with Mim, she’s as unpredictable as they come, with all the accompanying excitement.

David Arnold’s style is perfectly pitched between humour and gravity, and feels incredibly genuine from our young heroine’s mouth. Despite spending a fair amount of time travelling and waiting, there is never a dull moment in MOSQUITOLAND with a pace which flows quickly throughout the whole novel.

Told through a combination of letters to Isabelle and an up-close and personal first person narrative, getting inside Mim’s head is an extremely simple, if not occasionally uncomfortable, experience. Medicated at the insistence of her protective father, knowing that what Mim is thinking and feeling is real isn’t entirely straightforward.

Mim is just about the bravest, most relatable, most human YA protagonist that I have yet to come across (and please let there be more). Melinda Salisbury gave a passionate speech at YAShot this year on feminism and the notion of strong female protagonists. She said that being strong is so much more than just having a ‘sassy’ narrative or a physical advantage, that there a million different ways to be strong, from standing up for what you believe in to having the courage to walk away. For me, Mim represents exactly what Melinda was talking about. She is a real human being who is full of the bravado of a confident teenager to the world but, in reality, is just as confused and anxious as everyone else.

Mim may have a funny, nonchalant voice but it is her true self that really makes MOQUITOLAND stand out as honest, liberating and most importantly, believable. The way she interacts with other characters isn’t always flattering, but she does have more redeeming features than she probably even realises. Her partners in crime: Arlene, Walt, Beck and a whole host of Carls, are just as well developed and endearing as she is.

It’s the things that Mim learns about herself on the way to rescue her mother that absolutely brings this novel to life; it takes guts to drag yourself 1,000 miles from home. I truly loved the deeper message of self-acceptance behind this book and can only hope that more readers find that same warmth, to make MOSQUITOLAND a quiet classic for years to come.

I received MOSQUITOLAND in exchange for an honest review from Headline. My reviews always represent my own opinion. 


[ARTICLE] Literary Bloomsbury


Given the title ‘Literary Bloomsbury’ and told to run with it in any direction we saw fit, I spent more time than I care to admit racking my brains for a topic. Before moving to London, I had never even heard of the apparently infamous Bloomsbury Group and my knowledge of the area only went as far as UCL (and probably Bloomsbury Publishing) being a part of it.

Turns out that Bloomsbury is home to more publishing houses than you can shake a hardback at. As part of our Publishing Contexts module, my class was given the incredible opportunity to nosy round Faber & Faber and meet some of the lovely people who work there. Inspiration hit.

I’ve loved Sylvia Plath since I first picked up one of Faber’s many editions of The Bell Jar on one of my regular angry teenage shopping trips. Stomping through Waterstones, I can’t imagine what attracted me to pick it up. At the time, I was almost exclusively reading manga, costing me nearly £10 a volume and devouring each one in a matter of hours. The Bell Jar was my first leap into the ‘literary’ or ‘classic’ genre, and I have yet to find another book that even comes close to it.

Sylvia, born in Massachusetts, came to the UK on a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Cambridge University. She had excelled in academics throughout her entire life and through her short stories, won an editorial internship at Mademoiselle magazine in New York. Her experiences there utterly exhausted her and later became the base upon which she built The Bell Jar.

Bell Jar OpeningDetailing in vivid imagery the crushing disappointment, resentment and loathing she felt in New York, The Bell Jar was the first novel I read that showed depression in such a raw and real form. Sylvia was repeatedly told how gracious and grateful she should be for such an incredible opportunity, that she should be having the time of her life. She simply wasn’t.

Faber publish The Bell Jar as part of their Children’s/YA list. Why? Everything about it screams mature, warning, parental guidance. The themes may be hard to swallow, but they’re real.

The number of 15 and 16 year olds with depression has almost doubled since 1980. And that’s only the ones brave enough to seek help. Young readers are experiencing these sudden extremes of emotion, squashed into boxes that don’t fit them by academia and society. Crushing down feelings of inadequacy and fear, teenagers are forced to compete against the projections of perfection endlessly plastered across Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

We are failing them. By maintaining this shroud of taboo around mental health and making it so difficult to talk about our emotions, we are not teaching these burgeoning adults how to cope with their emotions in a healthy way. The number of children admitted to hospital due to self-harm has increased by 68% in just ten years. And that’s only the ones brave enough to seek help. 

By publishing The Bell Jar in the YA list, Faber are speaking frankly to young adult readers and allowing them to take ownership of their education on mental health. We need books that create an open and honest space to discuss depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar and all the other labels we like to slap on each other’s foreheads. The Bell Jar. All the Bright Places. The Silver Linings Playbook. My Heart and Other Black Holes. Books like these allow young readers to identify their own difficulties, find solace in knowing they’re not alone, learn how to talk to people they’re concerned for and provide a springboard for seeking out more information. Mirrors and windows.

Carefully choosing to publish books that facilitate this discussion is a vitally important responsibility of our industry. 

Faber & Faber summarise Sylvia Plath’s brilliant life in just five key milestones – one being her birth and the other her death. Her first key moment? Meeting Ted Hughes. This incredible woman achieved so much in her life but is defined merely in terms of her romantic relationships. Clearly we still have a lot of work left to do there too, but that’s an article for another day.

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Charlotte x

(All statistics from Young Minds.)

[REVIEW] All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

Characters – 5/5
Plot – 5/5
Setting – 5/5
Style – 5/5
Overall – 5/5

“The thing I realise is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES tells the story of love-struck Finch and Violet, as the unlikely couple meet on the edge of the school bell tower, neither certain if they really want to jump. Still grieving painfully after the tragic death of her older sister, Violet’s depression is crushing her with an iron-grip, while Finch constantly re-invents himself to find a reason to stay awake every single day.

Built completely around Violet and Finch, the plot has a simple premise that allows the personality and prose to shine through. Brought together for what they expect to be a lame school project, the pair are sentenced to wander Indiana and learn what their state has to offer. As Violet slowly begins to reconcile with her loss and start to live again with Finch’s coaxing, Finch is struggling to hold it together and pulls further and further away. The parallels between their lives are both healing and heartbreaking, set against the background of Finch’s exciting and imaginative wandering sites.

Violet and Finch are both wonderfully complex and well developed characters in every aspect. They feel like real people with real actions and emotions; their presence just leaps off the page. Reading their story felt like experiencing it all first hand, with a relationship so beautifully crafted it makes you ache. Both Finch and Violet have distinct voices when narrating their own chapters, and are brought to life with quirks that make them unique in personality too. There is nothing cheesy or embarrassing about their romance, just an honest telling of the lives of these fully-fleshed teenagers.

While some of the other characters are little lacking in the same all-encompassing depth and emotional complexity, I really didn’t mind. This is completely Violet and Finch’s story, everyone else falling away to show how truly wrapped up in each other they become.

Jennifer Niven’s style is simply stunning. Each sentence, paragraph and chapter is constructed with a purpose and reads beautifully. There’s real passion behind her story and it’s evident she has drawn on some intense personal experiences to create this level of raw energy in her writing.

The sentiment behind the whole story comes from a very real place, as such, ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES handles teenage mental health in a mature and powerful way. Neither romanticising or sweeping aside Finch and Violet’s personal struggles, this novel creates an honest and sensitive space to discuss depression and grief. A difficult one to get right, Niven really nails what it is that love can do, and more importantly, what love cannot do for those with depression.

There isn’t a thing about this novel that I didn’t love. ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES is believable, rich and raw and I was completely glued to it beginning to end. Finch in particular made this story for me with his vulnerability and easy charm. Simply perfect.