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Why I DNFed MUNMUN by Jesse Andrews

Please Be Aware: SPOILERS abound in this discussion


Last summer I went to ALA and picked up an ARC for a book called MunMum by Jesse Andrews. After reading the back copy, this was the book I was most excited to read, but I wanted to wait closer to release date. This past weekend I spent a lot of time driving in the car and read it I did. Well, I started to, but I am DNFing this one. To be honest, it has been a long time since a book has made me this angry. Let me tell you why.

Please note: There will be intense spoilers for the first 100 pages of MunMun below.

So. Many. Spoilers.

In this world, everyone’s size is directly proportional to their economic worth. So the poorest of the poor are the size of rats and called littlepoor. And the richest of the rich are the size of skyscrapers and are called bigrich. There are a lot of sizes in between. There is a handy picture chart at the beginning to put it all in visual perspective for readers.

This story is told in the voice of Warner, a littlepoor and brother to Prayer. In the beginning, their milk crate house is smashed by a slightly larger and thus more well off person, and they find themselves having to live in a camp kind of like a tent city. And they are trying to find a way out of their financial predicament so they can scale up – having more money means they can get physically bigger which would make them safer. It’s a metaphor. The one thing I will give MunMun (which is what they call money in this world) is that it does really demonstrate in concrete terms how wealth is associated with power and safety. The littlepoor are literally in extreme danger constantly because they can be smashed with a single footstep by the bigrich.

But that is the only thing I am giving this book.

So what is their plan? Well, their plan is that the sister should go to law school. No, not to get an education and become a lawyer and get a good job to help bring in money, but to marry a middle rich who would have to share their munmun and scale up the family. That’s their plan: Prayer must woo and marry someone with more money.

So Warner and Prayer take an adventure to the city where a law school is. Prayer brings along U for protection, taking advantage of the love she knows he has for her in a very cold and calculated way. The first part of the novel she is truly awful to him in every way and manipulates his love and devotion to her for her own personal gain. Because of course she does, that’s what women do don’t you know. We are cold, calculating creatures that manipulate and harm people to advance our station in life. Warner, paragon of virtue and conscience, is constantly reprimanding Prayer for this and telling his friend to please stop allowing himself to be used in this way. Man I hate Warner and they way he talks about and to his sister.

When they get to the school her plan is to bat her eyelashes and just agree with everything the law students say, no matter how dumb it makes her sound. Because that’s how women woo. So the men all mock her because they know she’s being utterly stupid and no one can figure out why their plan isn’t working. Well, Warner of course knows why their plan isn’t working and sees the utter contempt that these men have for his stupid sister, because of course Warner does. Yep, I still hate Warner.

But Warner has a secret skill: he is a great dream weaver. So he goes in to the dreams of the law students and creates the most romantic dreamscape he can think of and they pretend that it is Prayer doing it to woo the law students. When she fails at wooing, her brother uses his amazing gift to help her out and takes the credit for it. Warner saves the day.

You can also dreambang, which is having psuedo-sex in the dreams. I’m not making that up, it’s called dreambanging in the book. She of course employs this as well, dream banging whoever is willing in hopes that she will find a spouse and her family can scale up. So she’s a dreambanging prostitute.

And after a while, I just couldn’t keep reading this. What should have been a wildly inventive narrative turned out to be the most horrific of tropes packaged with a new shiny bow. The idea of size being related to wealth and the jeopardy it puts you in and the power it can give is interesting in theory, but this execution is trite and weary and dehumanizing and offensive. I hated everything about the 100 pages of this book that I was reading and I literally threw it down in disgust.

Yes, women in the past have often been forced to use their bodies or marry for financial gain or stability. Yes, they still are today. We know, we’ve seen it a million times. Here is a chance to tell a different story and the first 100 pages are spent slogging through this familiar trope with the most offensive female representation I have read in a really long time. Prayer wants to marry rich, but she is portrayed as being wildly manipulative and inept at the same time. She is literally the worst female representation I have read in maybe any book ever. Not because she’s unlikable, I’m fine with unlikable characters, but because she is so horrifically stupid and inept.

It’s not just that I hated Prayer – and I did hate her – it’s that I hated that I was once again forced to read this narrative. Poor girl manipulates man to attain financial gain, is inept and must be “saved” by the talents of her brother, is willing to use the poor little lost puppy to get what she wants even though she knows she is actively hurting him. She’s like all the worst female tropes rolled into one stunningly offensive package.

As I read this book, my teenage daughter was reading another book in the back seat and I thought to myself, I really don’t want her to read this. I’m tired of people telling her and girls like her that all they have to offer to this world is their bodies, their affection, and marrying for financial gain. And I don’t want my teen boys (and here I mean the teens I serve) reading this book because I’m tired of them growing up with this narrative and developing these views of girls. It’s just a destructive cycle that we read over and over and over again.

It’s so completely demeaning to girls. To women.

Now here’s the deal: I 100% admit that I have not finished this book and I have no intention of doing so. It’s possible that somehow later in the book Andrews redeems Prayer as a character, that Warner isn’t the one to save them all, but I don’t want to have to slog through more of the same old offensive narratives to get there. I’m just refusing to do so. I don’t care how the story ends because I’m tired of it beginning in the same old ways.

This is speculative fiction. Here is a chance to tell a wildly inventive story, to flip the script. But Andrews doesn’t choose to start his story that way and I refuse to give it any more of my time. I’m done with these types of narratives where girls must sell their bodies or affections in some way to attain stability. I’m done with these types of narratives that perpetuate the idea of the cold, calculating woman who will do whatever it takes to whomever it takes for money and stability. And I’m done with the stupid girls trope that we initially see in Prayer. And I’m done with the idea that this is the only idea Prayer and her mother could come up with and yet she still needs her brother’s skill to help make it work, to save her. Everything about this book was offensive to me and made me rage.

I’m ready for something new and I’m not willing to slog my way through 100 or more pages of the same ole, same ole tropes to maybe possibly get there.

Readers deserve better.

Women deserve better.

Whatever pay off there may be at the end of this book, if any, I’m not willing to make the journey to get there.

DNF and not recommended

Publisher’s Book Description:

In an alternate reality a lot like our world, every person’s physical size is directly proportional to their wealth. The poorest of the poor are the size of rats, and billionaires are the size of skyscrapers.

Warner and his sister Prayer are destitute—and tiny. Their size is not just demeaning, but dangerous: day and night they face mortal dangers that bigger richer people don’t ever have to think about, from being mauled by cats to their house getting stepped on. There are no cars or phones built small enough for them, or schools or hospitals, for that matter—there’s no point, when no one that little has any purchasing power, and when salaried doctors and teachers would never fit in buildings so small. Warner and Prayer know their only hope is to scale up, but how can two littlepoors survive in a world built against them?

A brilliant, warm, funny trip, unlike anything else out there, and a social novel for our time in the tradition of 1984 or Invisible Man. Inequality is made intensely visceral by an adventure and tragedy both hilarious and heartbreaking.


  1. Yikes! Good for you for walking away from this one fast. I agree – I will also steer my daughters far from books like this.

  2. Thank you for putting energy and thoughtfulness into a review of a book that made you so angry. The act of revisiting these feelings isn’t easy.

  3. Courtenay says:

    I just crossed this one off my list. It held so much promise.

  4. “It’s possible that somehow later in the book Andrews redeems Prayer as a character, that Warner isn’t the one to save them all”

    I think he does. Warner’s initial attitude towards Prayer is revealed to be a product of his immature perspective as an angry teenage boy, not the final word on Prayer and her capacities. The family’s desperate, highly commonplace plan for Prayer to marry a law student turns out not to be the end or answer to the family’s strange journey through class mobility, so Warner’s dream building doesn’t really “save” them so much as propel them to the next in a stack of disasters that leads to a glorious and surprising climax. I adore the character of Prayer–I think the book is really smart and often heartbreaking about the sexism she faces. (There’s also a female character in the book that’s “better” at magic-dream-buidling than Warner is, or honestly I probably would have hated the book.)

    I think this is a great book by a man that tackles class inequality and sexism, but/and I can totally understand not wanting to read another one of those, or not having the patience to even endure another one of those. I also probably wouldn’t give it to my teenage daughter if I had one, because I’d probably only want her to read about women who live in egalitarian societies and command teams of dragons. But, it’s a book my hypothetical teenage daughter might choose for herself, and if she did I think it might do her soul good to see injustice portrayed in such an imaginative way.

    • anonymous_reader says:

      It’s unfortunate that your comment, which actually reflects the content of the book (the whole book), will be ignored in favor of vitriol and hyperbole.

      Any time I see a reviewer say that they’ve literally thrown the book they were reading, I assume that the rest of their review can be safely ignored.

  5. Well, it’s a shame that you didn’t finish it. It’s a remarkable book filled with so many thoughts and feelings. Prayer in the beginning of the book and Prayer at the end of the book are two different people. (Or are they?) 😉 Maybe she was always that strong girl and it was Warner’s perception of her that twisted our perception of her? At any rate, every reader is entitled to their opinion, so I have nothing to say about the content of the review OTHER THAN THIS: I find it sad that this blogger/reviewer holds herself up as an expert in the area of teen literature and then write a public review for a DNF book that has absolutely no merit whatsoever. I think it’s irresponsible. She is doing a disservice to teen readers everywhere. And this remark has nothing to do with her opinion of the book–it has everything to do with the fact that she has no actual knowledge of this book because she didn’t even read it. (Those of us who did, know better). The vitriol is real. The only point of putting up this review was to make one’s self feel special and that is why i find this so sad.

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says:

      Hi there, I very explicitly state in the review that I didn’t finish it and that I could be wrong. I put up this review of this book because that’s what I do, review and talk about books and this was my very real opinion of this book. It’s fine that you disagree with me and that the book meant something different to you.

  6. You missed the mark on this reading of Munmun. I just finished it and decided to see what others’ interpretations were, and I couldn’t disagree with your reading of the first part any more than I do. You’re missing the satire in Andrews’s language that spins your argument on its head. He’s not perpetuating this, he’s making fun of those that do.

    Please, if you are thinking about reading this book, ignore this review and go right ahead. I enjoyed it very much.

  7. Jamalia Higgins says:

    I’m actually quite disappointed, Kelly, that you chose to publish this “review”. Seriously, with so many options of what to write about, you chose to write about a novel you didn’t come close to finishing? On a personal level, I feel like you are tarnishing your brand and it makes me wonder how devoted you are to your craft. I’ve been so excited about the anthologies you’ve edited, but now I wonder if I should be looking at those again through a different lens.

    I didn’t care for this book, as it is not my type of read, but to suggest barring it from others? That’s surprising. Very surprising.

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says:

      Hi there, first of all, I am Karen.
      Second of all, there is a difference between not recommending a book and barring it from others. For example, I have this book in my current public library collection and it is freely available to anyone to check out.

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