As I begin typing this, I’ve just finished reading David Arnold’s Mosquitoland, and let me tell you, I feel like I’ve just run a marathon. I’ve been reading this book over the course of the month, and I finally finished it. I’m at a desk, in the Multimedia center, and I don’t want to bother people with texts, so I have no one to bother with my feelings but you.
So let’s get to it.
Let me just start off by saying this book is incredible. If you’re someone who’s seen me in the past month, I’ve probably talked this book up to you, and I couldn’t really help it. Because I’d seen this book so many places and heard so many incredible things about it, and all the hype was so deserved. Arnold reimagines the road trip novel. The story follows Mim—a sharp, witty, and driven young woman who’s hit the road to try and find her estranged mother shortly after her father remarries.
There’s so many incredible things about this book, but I want to talk about the big one that I’ve been thrilled about this whole read: friendship.
There are so many places where this book could have tiptoed into cookie-cutter romance territory and then instead took a sharp right turn to highlight the beauties of friendship. I’m the first who will get on board with a sweet romance, but there was something so pure and real about the friendship in this novel. Mim both acknowledges the potential for romance while also elevating the importance of non-romantic partnerships.
Mim perfectly phrases this balance shortly after she’s met our tall-dark-and-handsome leading man. She thinks, “Sure, I’d love to kiss-hug-marry-hold Beck, but for now, I’m happy to just be with him. Sometimes being with gets overlooked I think” (260).
When I read this, I stopped. This was one of those lines, one of those lines that completely blew me over and made me think for a minute. It was exactly the thought that I’d been skirting around for years, and really truly discovering these past years in college. It was one of those moments were an author put an idea into words, and it just felt so right. These little moments of mind-reading are my favorite.
What’s even better is that this isn’t just a throwaway line, something that the novel thinks would sound artsy and then disregards later. No, the novel stays true to this principle. As the two continue to travel together, they decide to be friends—instead of romantic partners—and just be with one another.
They have this notion of a “liquid goodbye”—one that isn’t forever or set in stone—and I think this fluidity extends into their platonic and romantic relationship. It has the potential to change, but for now, they are happy to just have one another in their lives.
The primary thought that I had while reading this was how I’d had a book like this when I was younger. As a teenager, I was pretty consumed by the idea of finding “Mr. Right,” so much so that I sometimes looked past the incredible bonds I had with my friends. That was, in part, because of the romance novels I consumed that told me this was how I should think and what I should want. But Mosquitoland was different. It gave its readers the permission to seek out these platonic relationships and the power of just having someone on your side. I think that’s so important.
This is the kind of thing that I’m striving for as a writer. I love writing romance, but I never want my romance to eclipse the platonic relationships in my novel. I want my Honors project to foreground friendship and companionship. I want my little nugget of a protagonist that she doesn’t need to be romantic with someone to enjoy “being with” someone. I want her to become aware of the different forms of love out there besides romance.
Because, at least in my experience, it’s these people that you can spend time just “being with” that I make the best memories with and that I hold onto for my whole life.