I do not read many young adult books. I find that I am often annoyed by the lack of maturity in the characters. However, I will read anything Akwaeke Emezi writes. ANYTHING. With the prequel to Pet being published later this month, it was time that I finally picked up this book.
In a near-future society that claims to have gotten rid of all monstrous people, a creature emerges from a painting seventeen-year old Jam’s mother created, a hunter from another world seeking a real-life monster.
A genre-defying novel from the award-winning author NPR describes as “like [Madeline] L’Engle… glorious.” A singular book that explores themes of identity and justice. Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?
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?
A riveting and timely young adult debut novel that asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.
Pet is a wildly creative allegory following Jam, a Black trans teenage girl who lives in a sort of utopian city, Lucille, in the near future. Lucille has rid itself of monstrous people – politicians, criminals, etc. – and believes that monsters no longer exist within its society. When a creature emerges from her mother’s painting, Jam is forced to reconcile with the truth that monsters may still exist. Ultimately, Pet is a story about how dangerous people and evil thrive in plain sight when people want to believe what they see on the surface.
The only part of Pet that felt like it belonged in the Young Adult genre (other than the age of the protagonist) was the facile approach to a lot of the more serious subjects in the book. I do want to mention that I feel like this allows for these issues to broached in a manner that does not slow down the plot and treats reality as just that – reality. I also found that the book did not feel heavy until the end, which I think allowed the focus to be truly Emezi’s moral intent: how people’s refusal of any kind of discomfort and avoidance of problems hurts and silences victims.
Emezi’s language and writing are what really allow this story to flourish. They manage to create vivid imagery without being excessively flowery. It is easy to become lost in the words and immersed in the story. I did find that it took a short bit to initially pick up, but once it really started, I had a difficult time putting the book down.
I found the relationships between Jam and other characters to be multi-dimensional and fully realized, although I thought the characters themselves could have been developed more. Since I do not read very many Young Adult books, I can not say how it compares to the genre’s standards. My only other criticism is that the story was a bit predictable and the plot quite linear. However, this did not detract from my enjoyment and is pretty typical of allegories.
As always, Akwaeke Emezi brings all of the representation! The diversity they include in Pet is spectacular, both in its inclusivity and in its handling of intersectional identities. The main character is a trans teenage girl whose parents had the model reaction to her self-realization. Jam also happens to be selectively verbal and uses sign language frequently. Her best friend’s parents are in a polyamorous relationship and one of them is non-binary/gender non-conforming. Jam’s favorite librarian uses a wheel chair. The best part was the way in which Emezi includes this diversity. The characters all have stories that do not center around their identities as trans, polyamorous, neurodivergent, and/or disabled but also do not ignore the ways that the identifies impact them.
Overall, Pet is one of the books you will think about long after you finish it. This book reinforced how brilliant Akwaeke Emezi is and that I would read a menu if they wrote it. I highly recommend Pet and am looking forward to reading Jam’s mother’s story later this month.
Young Adult – Fantasy
September 10, 2019
Stonewall Book Award
National Book Award Finalist