Lawn Boy

Jonathan Evison

Algonquin Books, 2018

Plot Summary

For Mike Muñoz, life has been a whole lot of waiting for something to happen. Not too many years out of high school and still doing menial work--and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew--he’s smart enough to know that he’s got to be the one to shake things up if he’s ever going to change his life. But how? He’s not qualified for much of anything. He has no particular talents, although he is stellar at handling a lawn mower and wielding clipping shears. But now that career seems to be behind him. So what’s next for Mike Muñoz?



  • Booklist (1 Mar. 2018. Starred review): “This tender bildungsroman follows Mike from one setback to another, each interaction involving slyly observant and brilliantly witty dialogue that also poignantly conveys vulnerability. Evison skillfully weaves the American Dream into a subtle social novel to illustrate how race and class can thwart aspiration. In his bighearted portrayal of Mike Muñoz, Evison has created an indelible human spirit content to live authentically, which just might prove to be the true American dream. For readers of Sam Lipsyte and Jonathan Tropper.”


  • Booklist (1 Jan. 2019. “2018 Editors’ Choice”): A broad range of outstanding books that combine literary and intellectual excellence with popular appeal. “Evison’s witty, bighearted portrayal of Michael Muñoz, a 22-year-old landscaper who cares for his disabled brother and dreams about writing the great American novel, celebrates authenticity.”

  • Kirkus (1 March 2018): “The novel has a light tone and is laugh-out-loud funny at times, but at a certain point, Mike's trials and tribulations move from comically frustrating to just frustrating. With so much going wrong for him, the reader can expect that the universe will smile on Mike eventually, but there’s only so many sick family members, unpaid bills, bad jobs, awkward situations, and thwarted plans a character can sufer through. We root for Mike while also wishing we didn’t have to root so hard. A book about triumphing over obstacles, and obstacles, and obstacles, and more obstacles.”

  • Library Journal (1 Jan. 2018. Starred review): “Readers who are uncomfortable with the author's frequent use of profanity and vulgarity will miss out on a deeply real portrait of an everyday Joe just trying to find his way. Evison combines humor, honesty, and anger with an insightful commentary on class that's also an effective coming-of-age novel.”

  • New York Times (3 June 2018): Mike Muñoz is a Holden Caulfield for a new millennium … Evison, as in his previous four novels, has a light touch and humorously guides the reader, this time through the minefield that is working-class America … Evison's subject matter and wit are a welcome departure from self-conscious M.F.A. trust-funded prose - one of his many comic targets, along with Walmart, puppy mills and inbred, rich white folks. As he chases the American dream, Mike loses two teeth in a kitchen extraction scene (no insurance), but gains so much more - a social conscience, romance and his niche in life. Not to mention a laughing, sometimes teary, audience who stay with him until the very last page.”

  • Publishers Weekly (5 Feb. 2018. Starred review): “This moving fifth novel from Evison (This is Your Life, Harriet Chance) enters the wry, conflicted mind of Mike Muñoz, a recently fired yard worker with a real talent for topiary and a genuine love for landscaping … Evison convincingly evokes the small disasters and humiliations that beset America's working poor. Mike's gradual growth into self-awareness is punctuated by moments of human kindness and grace that transpire in and among broken-down trucks, trailer parks, and strip malls. Focusing on the workers who will only ever be welcome in gated communities as hired help, Evison's quiet novel beautifully considers the deterioration of the American Dream.”

  • School Library Journal (“Adult Books 4 Teens.” March 2018): “Eminently readable and deeply thought-provoking, Evison's deceptively simple novel takes on tough issues such as race, sexual identity, and the crushing weight of American capitalism. Mike Muñoz, the 22-year-old biracial (Mexican and white) narrator, has grown up dirt-poor with his hardworking waiter mother and his brother, who is developmentally disabled. The narrative follows Mike's attempts at several other jobs after he's fired from his lawn-mowing gig while he works on his love life and tries to help out his family. After Mike recounts a great disappointment involving his biological father in the first chapter, one of several themes emerges as Mike encounters several potential father figures (often bosses), each with his own deeply flawed philosophy of life. From the cutthroat capitalism of his first boss to the upper-class cronyism of an old high school pal, each man personifies aspects of Mike's life that he cannot stand, even while he learns valuable lessons from them. Meanwhile, other story lines fix on Mike's underdeveloped understanding of his sexuality, which is not helped by the rampant homophobia and sexism of his best friend, and his equally conflicted understanding of his ethnic identity. Unfortunately, Evison's often infective enthusiasm for his preponderance of ideas weighs down the demands of the plot. Nevertheless, the passion with which Mike and Evison share these ideas redeems the novel. VERDICT: Give this flawed but exciting coming-of-age story to teens eager to engage with heavy and timely political issues.”

  • Washington Post (10 Apr. 2018): “This lawn boy asks, ‘Where’s my part of the American Dream?”): Jonathan Evison takes a battering ram to stereotypes about race and class in his fifth novel, "Lawn Boy." It's a semi-autobiographical tale spiked with angst and anger, but also full of humor and lots of hope … And he's constantly reminded of what it means to be brown in America … Evison drops more surprises and disappointments into Mike's life, including a game-changing romance. And everything leads to a lesson we can all learn: Change comes when people work together. ‘Whoever you are,’ Mike says, ‘whatever your last name is, wherever you came from, whichever way you swing, whatever is standing in your way, just remember: You're bigger than that. Like the man said: You contain multitudes.’ Life in 2018 appears to be getting more complicated for people like Mike, but Evison has written an efervescent novel of hope that can enlighten everyone.”


Alex Award, 2019


Booklist 2018 Editors Choice

Response to challenges

Fairfax (VA) Review Committee Recommendation: “The book is an accessible examination of race, class, socio-economic struggle, and sexual identity. It paints a portrait of the substantial obstacles faced by those who are marginalized by society. It is an uplifting and humanizing depiction of navigating through setbacks with resiliency to reach goals and will resonate with students. The themes of this book are afirming for students who will recognize that they are not alone as they experience similar systemic challenges and societal prejudices. The book has literary value as a narrative representing the perspective of a significant portion of students in Fairfax County Public Schools with a variety of backgrounds. There is no pedophilia present in the book.”


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