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Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,441 ratings  ·  303 reviews
A galvanizing and powerful debut, Mill Town is an American story, a human predicament, and a moral wake-up call that asks: what are we willing to tolerate and whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?

Kerri Arsenault grew up in the rural working class town of Mexico, Maine. For over 100 years the community orbited around a paper mill that employs most to
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published September 1st 2020 by St. Martin's Press
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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Nicole Wagner
Jun 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book has more layers than an onion. Layers that telescope from what happens inside one girl's growing up journey, inside her family, inside one city, one region, and bigger into our culture and our country and corporate personhood and the consequences of that to our lives and the environment that sustains them.

Overall this book contains not only a very thick, nostalgic retrospective, but also a condemnation of our collective complacency toward being taken advantage of by the all-too-often
Richard Derus
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A FINALIST!! The National Book Critics' Circle's annual John Leonard Prize for a first book's winner will be announced on 25 March 21.

MILL TOWN gets a spot on this terrific Best-of-2020 list from BuzzFeed! Many thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for my DRC.

The 2020 book I couldn't review because I always end up screaming at my computer and kicking my laundry bag...it is that good, that real, that intense and necessary a read. Using her own hometown, and her entire youth there, as a lens
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Any book that starts with a statement made in 1857 that is on point with the world of today peaks my interest. In this case, Kerri opens her book with a quote Frederick Douglass made in a speech 3 Aug 1857 - "find out just what a people will submit to, and you found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom ...more
Kelly Parker
Aug 27, 2020 rated it it was ok
Disclaimer: Didn’t finish.
I thought this book about the ravaged mill town where the author grew up would be like an Erin Brockovich story - investigating the havoc the paper mills have been inflicting on the small town nicknamed Cancer Valley - but it wasn’t. At least, not enough of it.
Parts of the book WERE good; pretty much anything focused on how the paper mills were affecting the people of the town. The problem was the author continually going off on these long tangents and history lessons
Sep 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook, net-galley
***I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Macmillan Audio and Netgalley!***

I’m not entirely sure where this book went wrong for me. Maybe I am not the right audience for it. Perhaps I should have read it versus listened to it. Perhaps I had the wrong expectations. I can’t say for sure but it was just boring.

The author of the book did the audiobook and that was the wrong choice. The entire book is read in deadpan. There is absolutely no life in it, no
Michael Asen
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a great book about the Maine you do not see when visiting Vacationland. Part memoir about growing up in a mill town and part peeling back the onion on carcinogenic elements of living in such a place. I probably live 60 miles from Mexico Maine and while the details of what has gone up there do not surprise me , it embarrasses me that I haven't spent more time thinking about the plight of these workers and their families. This can be an industrial town in any state but is more compelling b ...more
Jessica Haider
Aug 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mill Town is new memoir that is a reflection on family, small town life, the impact industry has on the environment and small towns and more. This is a thoughtful book that wanders seamlessly from personal anecdotes to scientific research.

Kerri Arsenault grew up in the small working class town of Mexico, Maine where generations of families have worked at the local paper mills. As an adult, Arsenault realizes what an impact the paper mills have had on the town by releasing toxins into the enviro
This book is a memoir and an investigation of the paper mill industry in Maine. The author, Kerri Arsenault, grew up in Rumford, Maine. Her family are from French Canadian stock, and call themselves Acadians. These are people who lived in the Maritime Provinces in Eastern Canada. In the later part of the 18th century, Acadians were expelled. Many of the Cajuns of Louisiana are descended from these people. Some went to Maine and for three centuries, French Canadians continued to move to Maine. Ar ...more
Jill Reads
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
Gosh, I had high expectations for this book because 1) I love memoirs, 2) I've read some very positive reviews of this book and 3) I'm pro-environment. I was very much looking forward to Kerri Arsenault revealing the lies and secrecy in our big corporations and governmental agencies. That said, this book just fell flat for me.

In particular, I found that there were too many personal tangents (e.g., the author's trip to France) that took away from the main storyline of exposing the paper mill. Yes
Sep 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, business
An Audible purchase narrated by the author. Unfortunately.

I actually have spent time smelling Rumford. A kraft pulp mill may have the smell of money, but boy howdy!

That personal connection is why I wanted to read this odd but compelling book.
It would have been better with more focus. Did she intend to write a memoir, an environmental screed, an elegy to small company towns?
Bonnye Reed
I received a free electronic copy of this excellent personal history from Netgalley, Kerri Arsenault, and St. Martin's Press on August 13, 2020. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. I have read this history of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work. Kerry Arsenault writes a compelling, heartfelt personal history of generations of her family and friends that grew up in a northern Maine paper mill town.

Maine's infamous Cancer Valley includes the town
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I almost didn’t read this book. I prefer fiction, and the nonfiction I read is usually bookended by fiction, and I’d just read an older cultural analysis from Elizabeth Wurtzel (RIP) that had made me want to escape back into my fiction. All I knew was that this book was about Mexico, Maine, and it was due back at the library in ten days, so...it was time to read it. I picked it up as much out of a sense of obligation as anything. I would give it a try, but my expectations were low.

Right away, th
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am a born New Englander from New Hampshire and Massachusetts and I grew up and have lived old milltowns myself. Whilst they are quaint and have now been recycled into housing, schools and art galleries they are a reminder of times gone by and of a damn hard life. The paper mills are mainly in Northern New England and as dangerous as the Monsanto company in their own right. The town of Mexico Maine and I bet you can go from one end to the other with your eyes closed. This book is about the auth ...more
Erin Wyman
I don't remember how I became aware of this book, but I won't soon forget reading this book. The subject of mills and mill towns, cancer and family are not a light subject, but the language of the author sucked me right in. I am calling it "a memoir of a town". ...more
Feb 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021-read
3.5 stars rounded up. Over the past few years, I have realized that narrative nonfiction is one of my favorite genres to read. I tend to have a novel and a narrative story going at the same time and I read between them depending on my mood. I was interested to read this along with The Book Cougars podcast and I am looking forward to hearing the author speak about her work. This is a memoir about growing up in Mexico, Maine which is a company town for the paper mill. The mill had been built in th ...more
Kim Fox
Aug 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Such a fascinating book!! Part history lesson, part Genealogy, part environmental study, part family, and part small town. The authors research in how the paper mill in her small town, affected not just the people that worked there but the river and the fish in it, the ash and how it coated everything was simply amazing! This book was mostly a memoir but I would also say it was an study on how greed, corruption, and the need for control can destroy a town. So many layers to this book and each on ...more
Jan 13, 2021 rated it did not like it
When I read the description of this book, I felt drawn to it. I grew up in a remote, rural area where generations worked in the same factories. We told time by the whistle calling people to work. As I read I found I had even more in common with this author- French Canadian ancestry, we both left and have made our lives away from our hometowns, even my childhood priest was born on December 25, just as hers was. As towns close to where I grew up have fought public battles with companies over PFOA, ...more
3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

Riveting at times, with many twists and turns from memoir, to environmental exposé, and even to history, this book has a bit of everything. Arsenault grew up in Mexico, Maine, a town dominated by a paper mill that is the main town employer, and which has been responsible for decades of pollution and environmental degradation that has likely contributed to the high rate of cancer in the area. Arsenault set out, I think, to expose the issues surrounding the plant and its
Jerry Smith
Sep 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
Rounded up to 3 for effort.

I'd heard a lot about this book and went so far as to buy it rather than wait for the library.
High Expectations = disappointment.

The author couldn't seem to figure out what the book was supposed to be.
Is it an expose on unsafe working (and living near) conditions at a paper mill?
Is it about Maine's ecological problems?
An economics book?
Acadian migration?
It seemed to be all of these wrapped loosely in a memoir.

Her writing was far too complex and showy in the story secti
Barred Owl Books
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A love letter to home and cry for change. What happens when the home town main employer has also been the one poisoning its employees and destroying the environment for future generations in this struggling town?
Michelle Morrill
Incredibly well researched and written. More of an extensive investigative news article with heavy historic information. Arsenault also blends in her own story with a focus on her father. Very interesting.
Chris Gager
Nov 09, 2021 rated it liked it
Reading for a local book group. I'd vaguely heard of it before. I've driven through the crumbly town of Mexico, Maine several times, though not recently. If I ever stopped it was to fill up with gas. A cop stopped me there once because I was going so slow trying to follow the winding Rt. 2 through town. He let me go ... I think most of my trips through were on my way to or from a hiking destination. No other reason to stop there - trust me. So far this non-fiction, personal(the author is a moved ...more
gillian fast
Jul 27, 2022 rated it liked it
i hate to give this book less than 4 stars b/c of the sheer amount of time, energy, & extensive research arsenault put into her exploration of the way industry/capitalism affected her hometown—-but at the same time i also wish she was more clear w/ her intention in writing this book: is it a memoir or is it an environmental call-to-action? b/c the larger message(s) seems to get lost within all the personal details and off-topic anecdotes until the very end. i think that this book would be better ...more
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
MEmoir/ History / Political Treatise... all in one package. I'll be honest, I picked up this book thinking it would be a bit closer to my own history of being in and around a mill town. In my case, the actual mill town was, by my time - roughly when Arsenault was graduating HS - , just a neighborhood of a larger County seat town it was founded just outside of around the same time as the mill Arsenault writes about. I know what it is like to live in such an area and have the mill be such an impor ...more
Maureen Grigsby
I would actually give this a 3.5. I listened to it on audio and, although it is an interesting story, it felt like it dragged a bit and could have used some editing to remove some of the side trails where she lingered. It is the story of the town in Maine where Arsenaught grew up, which contained the paper mill that supported her family and the community. The environmental hazards in the ground water, the soil, and the air were extensive. The cancer rates in the community were shockingly high. T ...more
Sherree Craig
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Kerri did a beautiful job tying in her concerns for our western Maine communities, small bits of memoir and search for her heritage. Such a vivid picture of growing up in the Mexico and Rumford area. Her painstaking research into the chemicals impacting the health of our environment and vitality. I never considered my own issues with infertility could be tied to this, but it sheds a new light on my struggle.

Kerri’s research shines a brighter light on what’s happening today with rollbacks to yea
Jun 24, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book deserves 6 stars for content. It is an absolutely fascinating description of the decline of a rural industrial town in Maine that is similar to the town I grew up in. If you want to really get insights on the decline of industrial America, the roots of the opioid crisis, the political disaffection that led to so much current strife and the permanent blight of industrial pollution, then this is the book for you. If all that sounds too depressing, the stories of family bonds, Acadian cul ...more
Nancy Motto
Oct 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A Scathing and impassioned indictment of corporate greed, Kerri Arsenault’s book Mill Town, Reckoning with what remains, explores the blighted history of the paper mills in Maine. This is also a poignant tribute by the author to her parents and the people in the town of Mexico Maine that helped shape and guide her life. Ms. Arsenault deftly intersperses memories of her own mostly idyllic childhood that was made possible by those same mills. The author’s father died of one of the many forms of ca ...more
Paul Preston
Sep 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Maine is a land of hardship intertwined with a stubborn sense of pride. We love our way of life even if it kills us.
Mill Town is a book about Rumford and Mexico, Maine, the paper mill that most everyone works at, and the health issues that the paper mill causes.
Kerri comes off sounding like she knows better than the rest of us Mainers, a pretentious attitude wondering how we sit back and take it. Her real feelings are actually an exasperated love and it shows.
All of her research against the p
Oct 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was top notch. Far and away the best nonfiction of the decade. A fascinating view of a small town that intertwines personal history, geographic history, and environmental history. Consumption and idealism come at a price as this book explains. I would recommend this book to anyone, especially to people like me who have been visitors or short term livers in small towns.

Learned about: paper mills, dioxin, sacrifice zones, idealism, Maine, capitalism, cancer, Cancer Valley, corruption, N
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I am the Book Review Editor for Orion magazine, Contributing Editor at Lithub.com, and the author of Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains, which won the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Maine Literary Award for nonfiction. My work has been published in Freeman's, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Paris Review Daily, the New York ...more

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