By Jesse Andrews
Synopsis: 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 little poor survive in a world built against them?
I think it is safe to say that “Munmun” is one of the most peculiar books that I’ve ever read. Set in an alternate reality that closely mirrors our own, everyone’s physical size is determined by their wealth or munmun. The poorest citizens are the size of rodents and the wealthiest are giants who can’t even fit in the cities, but in gigantic homes out near large bodies of water. Everyone else falls somewhere in between, and the idea is to raise oneself out of whatever level they currently reside in, at whatever cost, to be more than who they are. It’s a pretty good social commentary if you look at it like that.
We follow Warner, a Little Poor, whose dream is to earn enough munmun to become bigger than who he is and bring his sister and mother along with him. As such, he sets out with his sister, Prayer, who hopes to secure a good marriage which will increase her munmun,and therefore, size.
Things don’t quite go to plan. In fact, they quickly go from bad to worse.
Warner is an interesting character, and as a result, the book has a very strange narrative style. He’s illiterate, and thus, as a narrator, which speech patterns are phonetic. Words are spelled phonetically, or run together, the way he might say or hear them in real life – which takes some getting used to as a reader. He also starts out as an ambitious but optimistic boy who wants to improve his life. However, the events in the book quickly begin to shape who he is and his actions, and not always for the better.
This book deals heavily with societal expectations, poverty and crime rates, exploitation for political gain and many more things. It’s a good book, and very cleverly told, but the sheer weight of the social commentary sometimes lost me.
The ending also took a really unexpected turn and left me feeling slightly disconnected.
Overall, though, I thought it a truly interesting read and I’m glad I read it.
Thank you Atlantic Books for the copy of Munmun.