Image: A teen girl with dark brown skin and black hair wears pajamas and slippers and holds a large feather. Behind her is a purple, futuristic cityscape in square grids.

Young Adult Book Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi


Synopsis

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question—How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?


Details

  • Title: Pet
  • Author: Akwaeke Emezi
  • Cover Artist: Shyama Golden
  • Publisher: Make Me a World
  • ISBN: 0525647074
  • Publication Date: September 10, 2019
  • For Ages: 12+
  • Category: Young Adult
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? 😿 Spooky-Sad.
  • Content Warnings: mention of child abuse, mention of rape

I’d like to thank Make Me a World for providing a copy via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration.


Review

Pet is a raw, poetic, and hopeful look at what it means to live in a just society. The story centers on Jam, a Black teen girl who was born in the city of Lucille after a revolution ostensibly removed all “monsters”—white supremacists, corrupt politicians, rapists, domestic abusers, and rapacious billionaires, to name but a few—and instituted systems of equality, peace, and rehabilitation for those who transgress against Lucille’s ideals. Now that the monsters are all gone, the citizens of Lucille no longer live in fear. But one day a creature named Pet arrives and tells Jam that there is a monster that she needs to hunt…and that the monster is in the home of her best friend Redemption. Jam must figure out how to find a monster that looks like a normal person so that she can protect her friend and save her city.

As with any utopia, there are problems below the surface, but there is so much to emulate in Lucille’s ethics and policies. Lucille is pro-Black and pro-queer. It supports children’s rights and bodily autonomy. Jam is trans, but that fact doesn’t dominate the narrative; this is not a story of trans pain, it is a story of a trans heroine. Jam’s parents support her fiercely and unequivocally when she tells them at age 3 that she is a girl. However, even the most loving and nurturing of people can have blind spots, as evidenced by the adults in Redemption’s life refusing to believe him when he finally discovers who the monster is.

The identity and nature of the monster is not a surprise at all, and that’s what makes the reveal so sad and so realistic. We live in a world of monsters. Many of us recognize them, but all too often we either don’t know what to do when we see them or we’re unwilling to do what is needed (or we know what to do and are willing to do it but the system fails us anyway). And if the reveal is a surprise to you? Then that, too, is what makes it so sad and so realistic. As author Akwaeke Emezi repeatedly points out, monsters hide in plain sight. They could be our friends, our neighbors, or our family members. Jam and Redemption were taught that the monsters were gone, so they didn’t know what to look for…they didn’t even know to look at all. Pet teaches Jam that you must seek the unseen to root out evil wherever it lives. Complacency lets wounds fester and allows the people who cause those wounds to hide and continue inflicting pain wherever they go. Constant vigilance is necessary for justice.

Pet is poetic in the truest sense of the word, inventing new words and phrases you didn’t know we needed until they arrive to distill the truth of existence into tiny gems of language. Emezi’s words are fluid and vibrant and alive—they reshape language and adjust readers’ perspectives and examine the complex relationships between art, artist, and audience. Pet is a unique story told by a unique voice. As long as humans exist, this book will stay relevant as a reminder of the good and the bad of which we are capable and the need to keep fighting for a better world.


Rating

I give this book 5 out of 5 coffins.

5 Coffins


4 comments

  1. Great review! I finished reading Pet last Monday and am working on my review now. It really impressed me. I don’t think I’ve read another YA novel like it. There is so much that one could unpack with this story and you’ve hit on the key points.

    Liked by 1 person

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