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In this audiobook review, we will be exploring the unique and compelling novel, Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett. The book, narrated by Emily Woo Zeller, tells a powerful story that explores themes of family, loss, and love in an unconventional way, making it a standout in contemporary literature.

Through this review, we will take a deeper look into the book’s narration and production quality and explore its central themes and characters. We will also analyze the literary techniques used by Kristen Arnett, a talented and accomplished author with a unique perspective on storytelling.

Key Takeaways:

  • Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett is a unique and compelling novel that explores themes of family, loss, and love.
  • The audiobook version, narrated by Emily Woo Zeller, brings the story to life with excellent voice acting, pacing, and production quality.
  • The characters in the book are complex and nuanced, with interesting dynamics that provide insight into unconventional family structures and bonds.
  • The portrayal of grief and loss in Mostly Dead Things is poignant and impactful, providing a unique perspective on how characters cope with loss and find solace in their lives.
  • Kristen Arnett is a talented and accomplished author with a unique perspective on storytelling, making Mostly Dead Things a standout in contemporary literature.

About the Author, Kristen Arnett

Kristen Arnett is an American author, known for her unique writing style and captivating storytelling abilities. Born in Winter Haven, Florida, Arnett has written two books, including “Mostly Dead Things,” her critically acclaimed debut novel.

Arnett’s writing style is characterized by its dark humor, unapologetic honesty and exploration of complex themes like family dynamics, estrangement, and queer identity. Her work has been described as “gritty and precise” by the New York Times, and “captivating and intelligent” by NPR.

Prior to her career as a writer, Arnett pursued a degree in English literature at the University of Central Florida. She also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Florida State University.

Aside from writing, Arnett is active on social media, where she engages with her fans and fellow writers. She currently resides in Miami, Florida, where she is working on her third book.


Title Year
Every little hurricane 2016
Mostly Dead Things 2019

Overview of ‘Mostly Dead Things’

‘Mostly Dead Things’ is a novel by Kristen Arnett that follows the story of a taxidermy artist named Jessa-Lynn Morton, who takes over her family’s business after her father’s suicide. The novel is set in Central Florida and explores themes of family, love, loss, and unconventional relationships.

The plot revolves around Jessa-Lynn’s attempt to keep her family’s business afloat while grappling with unresolved grief and complicated relationships with her family members. Throughout the novel, coexisting narratives and flashbacks offer insight into the complex psychology of the characters, highlighting their struggles and desires.

Arnett’s writing style is engaging, with vivid descriptions of the setting, and character-driven, with a focus on personal growth and emotional development. The novel’s nonlinear structure adds depth to the narrative and gives the reader an unconventional reading experience.

Through ‘Mostly Dead Things,’ Arnett delivers a unique perspective on contemporary literature that explores complex themes with wit and depth, making it a standout in the literary landscape.


Name Description
Jessa-Lynn Morton The novel’s protagonist, a taxidermy artist struggling with grief and complicated relationships with her family members.
Brynn Jessa-Lynn’s brother’s wife with whom she has a romantic relationship.
Ryland Morton Jessa-Lynn’s father, an alcoholic who owned the family’s taxidermy business before his suicide.
Milford Morton Jessa-Lynn’s brother, who abandons his family and leaves Jessa-Lynn to run the business.


  • The story is set in Central Florida, with a focus on the family’s taxidermy business and their personal lives.
  • The novel explores the contrast between the idyllic, sunny Florida landscape and the darker, more complex emotions of the characters.


  • Family: explores the complexities of familial relationships, unconventional family structures, and the toll that unresolved trauma and grief can take on familial bonds.
  • Love: examines love and desire in various forms, including romantic relationships, self-discovery, and the exploration of sexuality.
  • Loss and Grief: portrays the effects of loss and grief on the characters, and how they cope with their emotions and find solace amidst challenges.

Narration and Production Quality

In the audiobook version of ‘Mostly Dead Things’, the narration and production quality play a significant role in enhancing the overall listening experience. The audiobook is narrated by Emma Galvin, who delivers a captivating performance, bringing the characters and their emotions to life.

The voice acting is particularly effective in conveying the nuances of emotions and the complexities of relationships. Galvin’s voice modulations and inflections aid in distinguishing between the various characters, making it easy for the listener to follow the narrative. The pacing is also well balanced, keeping the story moving at an engaging pace.

The production quality of the audiobook is exceptional, enhancing the listener’s journey through the story. The sound effects and background music blend seamlessly with the narration, heightening the emotional impact of the novel and immersing the listener in the story’s setting.

Overall, the narration and production quality of the audiobook version of ‘Mostly Dead Things’ enhance the overall listening experience, making it an excellent choice for those who prefer audiobooks or enjoy exploring multiple formats of a story.

Character Development and Relationships

In ‘Mostly Dead Things’, character development and relationships are integral to the plot. From protagonist Jessa-Lynn’s strained relationship with her father to her romantic entanglements with both men and women, the book delves deep into the complexities of human connection.

Jessa-Lynn’s growth throughout the story is especially noteworthy. As she navigates her grief over her father’s suicide and takes over managing the family taxidermy business, she begins to confront her own flaws and limitations. The relationships she forms along the way play a crucial role in this growth, highlighting both the highs and lows of human connection.

Particularly striking is the depiction of Jessa-Lynn’s romantic relationships. Her evolving feelings towards Brynn, her brother’s widow, are handled with care and nuance, allowing for a genuine exploration of same-sex desire. Meanwhile, her entanglement with Lucinda, a free-spirited artist, demonstrates the messy, complicated nature of love and attraction.

The novel’s other characters also undergo significant growth and change. From father figure Marvin’s painful past to Jessa-Lynn’s brother Milo’s struggle with identity, each character is given ample space to grow and evolve. The relationships between these characters are just as nuanced and complex as those involving Jessa-Lynn, highlighting the essential role that connection and communication play in the human experience.

Exploration of Family Themes

Mostly Dead Things is a novel that delves deeply into the complexities of familial bonds and unconventional family structures. The central family, the Mortons, are depicted as a family in crisis, struggling to navigate the aftermath of their father’s suicide and their mother’s subsequent retreat from the family.

The novel explores the intricacies of family relationships, from the strong bonds between siblings to the complicated dynamics between parents and children. Arnett’s portrayal of the Mortons is nuanced and multilayered, with each character dealing with their own fears and desires in different ways.

One of the key themes of the novel is the idea that families are not always neat and tidy, and that they often consist of messy, imperfect individuals who are still trying to find their way in the world. Most importantly, Arnett highlights the importance of family in times of great struggle, and how it can provide support and solace amidst difficult times.

Unconventional Family Structures

In Mostly Dead Things, Arnett challenges traditional family structures by depicting relationships that exist outside of traditional biological and legal ties. For example, we see the main character Jessa struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality and desires, and finding a sense of belonging with the taxidermy community who become like a family to her.

This portrayal of unconventional relationships underscores the idea that family is not just about blood ties, but about the connections that we make with others. It shows that the people who support us and help us to grow are just as important as those who are related to us by blood.

Impact on the Narrative

The exploration of family themes is central to the novel, informing the characters’ motivations and driving the plot forward. It is through their complex relationships with each other that we understand the Mortons’ struggles and triumphs, and Arnett does an excellent job of illustrating the ways in which our families can shape us.

In the end, Mostly Dead Things is a powerful exploration of the complexities of family life, showing us that even in the midst of great turmoil, there is still hope for growth and healing.

Examination of Loss and Grief

‘Mostly Dead Things’ delves deep into the complex emotions of loss and grief, portraying them in a realistic, poignant manner. The characters in the novel experience a wide range of loss, from the death of a loved one to the loss of a relationship or a way of life.

Throughout the book, the characters navigate their emotions in different ways, some succumbing to despair, while others find ways to cope and move forward. The main protagonist, Jessa-Lynn Morton, struggles to come to terms with the sudden death of her father and the unraveling of her family, ultimately finding solace in unconventional ways.

The portrayal of loss and grief in ‘Mostly Dead Things’ is raw, honest, and heart-wrenching, allowing readers to empathize with the characters’ pain and journey towards healing.

Representation of Love and Desire

‘Mostly Dead Things’ explores love and desire’s various forms, from romantic attraction to self-discovery and sexual exploration. The novel portrays a diverse range of characters navigating their relationships, exploring their desires, and forging connections with one another.

Arnett’s skillful writing highlights the complexity of these themes, with characters struggling to balance their desires with familial and societal expectations. The novel offers a refreshing and honest portrayal of sexuality, rejecting traditional gender roles and instead championing individual freedom and self-expression.

Romantic Relationships

The characters’ romantic relationships are presented with nuance and depth. Arnett explores the complications that arise when love and desire intersect, with characters often struggling to reconcile their emotions with practical concerns such as career aspirations and familial obligations.

Some romantic relationships depicted in the novel are unconventional, with characters exploring polyamory and non-monogamous arrangements. These relationships are portrayed with sensitivity and respect, challenging traditional societal norms surrounding monogamy and offering a deeper understanding of love and desire.

Self-Discovery and Sexual Exploration

‘Mostly Dead Things’ also delves into themes of self-discovery and sexual exploration. The characters’ journeys towards acceptance and understanding of their own desires are portrayed with authenticity and compassion.

One character’s exploration of their sexuality is particularly poignant, highlighting the importance of self-expression and acceptance in overcoming societal stigma and prejudice. Arnett’s writing celebrates sexual freedom and diversity, challenging conventional assertions that desire must fit within narrow, preconceived categories.

Pros Cons
  • Celebrates diversity and autonomy in romantic relationships
  • Portrays sexual exploration and self-discovery authentically
  • Challenges traditional gender roles and societal norms
  • May challenge some readers’ preconceived notions of love and desire
  • Contains explicit content that may not be suitable for all audiences

Reception and Critical Acclaim

Since its release, ‘Mostly Dead Things’ has earned critical acclaim and widespread praise from both readers and critics.

The book has received an average rating of 3.8 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, with many readers lauding its unconventional take on family dynamics and exploration of grief and loss.

A review by Publishers Weekly calls the novel ‘stirring and impactful,’ while The New York Times describes it as a ‘brutal, darkly funny debut.’

Mostly Dead Things Reception

In addition to these positive reviews, Kristen Arnett’s work has been recognized by numerous literary awards and organizations. ‘Mostly Dead Things’ was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, and Arnett was named a finalist for the 2020 Kirkus Prize in Fiction for her novel.

The novel’s reception and critical acclaim underscore its status as an important and thought-provoking addition to contemporary literature.


In conclusion, Kristen Arnett’s “Mostly Dead Things” is a beautifully written novel that explores complex and timely themes, including grief, loss, love, and family. The audiobook version of the novel, which we reviewed, does justice to the original text and enhances the overall reading experience with its excellent narration and production quality.

We found the characters in the novel to be incredibly nuanced and well-developed, and the relationships between them to be explored in a meaningful way. The book’s portrayal of family dynamics and unconventional structures is both refreshing and thought-provoking, while its exploration of grief and loss is poignant and relatable.

We were also impressed by the depiction of different forms of love and desire in the novel, which added depth and complexity to the themes explored. Overall, we believe that “Mostly Dead Things” is a must-read for fans of contemporary literature and audiobook enthusiasts alike.

Based on our review, we would highly recommend the audiobook version of “Mostly Dead Things” for those looking for an engaging and emotionally resonant read. It is an excellent choice for anyone looking to explore the complexities of family and relationships, loss and grief, and the myriad forms of love and desire that shape our lives.

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