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Munmun

Review

Munmun

Jesse Andrews’ newest novel, MUNMUN, is set in a thinly veiled alternative America called the Yewess. In this world, a person’s physical stature is directly influenced by the amount of munmun (money) in their bank accounts. There are people the size of skyscrapers, people the size of rats and people of all heights in between.

Our narrator, Warner, is a littlepoor --- that is, the income class which are the size of rats. Being a littlepoor means worrying about things that no one else even thinks about. They’re in constant danger of cat attacks and being stepped on. Hospitals and doctors are too big to help a sick or wounded littlepoor. They are uneducated because there aren’t schools small enough for them. There aren’t many well-paying jobs for these littlepoors, making it near impossible to scale up in the world.

Knowing this, Warner’s mother --- who was paralyzed in a cat attack --- sends Warner and his older sister, Prayer, off to law school to find Prayer a rich man who will marry her and give her and the family a little extra scale, so they can live a life that maybe doesn’t suck so much. Warner and Prayer set off with friend Usher, and from then on nothing goes right. They are yelled at, fetishized, ignored, assaulted and discriminated against. They get knocked down time and time again. Every time something is going well, it immediately goes horribly wrong. But Warner and the gang are determined to live a life of quality and equality or die trying.

"I found myself immediately infatuated with MUNMUN. It’s everything I wanted and so much more....This is Jesse Andrews at his best."

MUNMUN is a novel of made-up words, phonetic spelling, and themes relating to our fixation on wealth, family and trying to rise above in a world that’s structured against you. It is a story that flashes a funhouse mirror at our current state. Jesse Andrews will make you laugh, cry and do a lot of much-needed thinking.

Over the years, Jesse Andrews has established himself as an auto-buy author for me. But when I heard about MUNMUN, I couldn’t contain myself. Jesse Andrews writing a satirical look at our current world (especially in relation to socio-economic status/class) in his comical and distinct narrative? Yes, please!

I found myself immediately infatuated with MUNMUN. It’s everything I wanted and so much more. I can’t compare it to Andrews’ other works as MUNMUN plays by different rules, but I can say that this is Jesse Andrews at his best. MUNMUN is technical and passionate, and the first of his books that almost made me sad cry. He takes a multitude of tough topics (prejudice, income inequality, sexual assault, an unjust justice system and government) and writes them in a way that remains sensitive, but also doesn’t pull any punches. That’s a relatively impossible combination, but somehow that’s what he accomplished.

The characters of MUNMUN will steal your heart. Warner is a call-it-as-he-sees-it kind of guy. He does what he believes is right, even if that means sacrificing himself. He is full of love but also holds a lot of resentment. Warner is a character who acts in ways that may be seen as less than ideal but are always justified if you just think --- thinking, reflecting and understanding are a huge part of reading this novel.

Whilst MUNMUN is Warner’s story, his big sister Prayer stole the spotlight for me. Her character arc as a secondary character was better than most main characters get. She is a beacon of hopefulness and can-do attitude, I would think it impossible for a reader to not love her. But none of the characters in MUNMUN are perfect. They don’t always do or say or think the ideal things. That’s what made them better. Andrews wrote MUNMUN in a way that makes you not only think about the characters and their actions in relation to the world they’re in; he made it impossible for the reader to not be able to think of how that parallels to our world. MUNMUN is perfectly executed satire.

Andrews’ previous works are easy to read and comprehend. They are fast-paced and compelling, perfect for any reader, but especially reluctant ones. MUNMUN is no different. I think that a more reluctant reader might even find themselves more drawn to this world and writing style than the savvy reader. The way Andrews plays around with word formatting and blunt dialogue is refreshing and will certainly keep a readers’ interest and attention.

The only negative I really found with MUNMUN was also the thing that I just praised for setting it apart from every other book. The dialect and syntax were very different and going into the book, I expected this, but I didn't know the extent. I figured it would be a weird word or phrase sprinkled in every couple of pages like most books are wont to do. But Jesse Andrews goes all in. The writing style of MUNMUN was the traditional Jesse Andrews writing that I know and love, but it was then combined with Orwell's doublespeak on drugs, being spoken by a parroting eight-year-old. For the most part, it's easy to get acquainted with. However, if you take multiple breaks while reading, it can get a bit confusing and hard to get back into. So, as much as I loved the dedication and extra dimension that this element added to the story as a whole, it was also the only thing that ever irked me.

Overall, though, this unique component contributed to one of my favorite things about the book: MUNMUN is truly evocative of Jonathan Swift’s A MODEST PROPOSAL. The two are similar not just in that they are both wonderful pieces of satire and feature quite similar ideas, but in the indescribable rhythm they both have. This rhythm is maintained by Andrews breaking all sorts of writing rules --- not my favorite thing, but worth it in this instance. That said, I highly recommend readers set time aside to read MUNMUN. When you read large uninterrupted chunks, you can truly feel the book’s unique heartbeat.

MUNMUN brings satire --- a genre that has been severely lacking --- to young adult books. Come to think of it, MUNMUN is the only explicit political satire young adult book I've heard of. It offers a gateway to younger readers into satire, a very interesting genre. MUNMUN would be an excellent addition to school libraries, or even as further reading for classes that discuss satirical and political dystopias in literature.

Reviewed by Olivia W., Teen Board Member on April 9, 2018

Munmun
by Jesse Andrews