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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.