Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

The cover of Pet, with Jam--a young Black girl in pajamas holding a feather--standing on top of a small scale map of the city of Lucille. The base of the map is a purplish pink color, and it is regimented into squares by perfectly straight streets. The text at the top, in white, says "Akwaeke Emezi". Just below that, above Jam, says "PET" in large text that is white with a gilded feather pattern. At the bottom, below Jam, is smaller text in white that says, "Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?"

Akwaeke Emezi’s debut YA future-fantasy novel, Pet, has gotten a lot of hype, and justly so. In it, a young Black trans girl named Jam lives in the city Lucille where Monsters (whom we might call bad people or criminals) were all punished by Angels (whom we would call revolutionary leaders). But even though all of the adults are saying that there are no Monsters in Lucille anymore, a big creature named Pet just came out of a painting Jam’s mom made and it says it’s hunting one. In this stunning read, Emezi explores the nuanced conflict between good and evil with their framework of Angels and Monsters.

Emezi’s work teaches us that, sometimes, saviors can cause pain and look like monsters. The eponymous Pet is an enormous creature covered in feathers with no visible face–it is frightening. The knives in its chest cut Jam, the main character, when she first sees it. Right from the start, there is something unsettling about this entity. Throughout the novel, too, Jam has to temper Pet’s intimidating drive for what it calls “the hunt”. However, Pet fights Monsters and looks like the religious images of angels that Jam saw in a book just before meeting the creature. As the novel progresses, Emezi sets up this double-sided character who is fighting for good, but is also very capable of hurting people.

On the other hand, monsters are often people we trust. The reason why Pet is there in the first place is to hunt a Monster in the house of Jam’s friend, Redemption. It is a home filled with Redemption’s family–his (three! Go positive poly relationships!) parents, his brother, and his aunt and uncle. Other than Redemption and his brother, all of their family lived in a time when Monsters ran the world, before the revolution. They all took part in social change in some way or another–one of them even did enough to be called an Angel. And yet, one of those people has been doing something terrible that Jam has to discover in order to help Pet with the hunt and save her best friend. Emezi shows us that even if someone has done some good things, it doesn’t make their terrible deeds any better.

Ultimately, I think Akwaeke Emezi did a wonderful job of showing us the nuance behind good and evil and doing justice. It was lovely to read, and I’ve already recommended it to friends. Jam’s transness isn’t a major theme in the book, which is part of why it’s good representation: the suffering in the book isn’t because Jam is trans. I would recommend it to cis and trans readers alike, especially those who want to see Black trans representation!

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Publisher: Make Me a World

Paperback: Around $8.50

Number of Pages: 204 pages

ISBN: 978-0525647072

Content Warnings: Blood, body horror, family issues, implied child abuse

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