Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Pet” came into my life via my best book buddy, who found it, loved it, and declared that I would love it too. And oh, she was right! 

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 uncover the truth, and the answer to the question How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

In their riveting and timely young adult debut, acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.

This book came into my life at just the right moment, as I’m sure it will, and already has, for many people. It’s excellent because it makes you, along with Jam, ask yourself the tough questions. It’s excellent because it gives you a sense of nostalgia for a world we haven’t achieved yet, a world we are actively striving toward right now.

“Pet” takes place in Lucille, a place where the “bad times” have already passed- when the people fought back against evil corporations, corrupt law enforcement and politicians, and people who hurt other people- the “monsters”, as they now refer to them. Lucille is a safe and happy place, where diversity flourishes, and the wonderful thing is that it’s not spotlighted or pointed out as “diverse”, it just is. Lucille sounds perfect to me.

Perhaps that sounds strange, to feel nostalgic for a world that is ripped apart in this book. But to me, that is the point. “Pet” speaks to always enjoying what you have, but to also recognize what could be better. And most of all: to never stop listening, even if what someone else is saying is something you do not want to hear.

“Pet” is about recognizing that we simply need to do the best we can to take care of our communities, because taking care of each other is akin to taking care of ourselves. As the citizens of Lucille say:

“…We are each other’s harvest, we are each other’s business.”

Lucille had responded as one. “WE ARE EACH OTHER’S MAGNITUDE AND BOND.”

Pg. 200

The sense of community in Lucille is beautiful and strong. I loved Jam’s relationship with her parents, and with Redemption Jam finds her other half. They are each other’s rock, the one person who will never lie to them, who will always reach out to them. Redemption learned sign language so he could talk to Jam, who has selective mutism, and I loved it so much!  Their relationships with Redemption’s family and the librarian (who also learned sign language to communicate with Jam) were wonderful depictions of people extending a hand in solidarity and support.

Tragically, in this case, that is also where the nugget of danger lies. In the midst of all this love and solidarity, a monster was able to lurk unseen, with the only person who could have spotlighted the issue instead deciding to turn a blind eye, begging the question- Are there really no monsters- or do you just not want to see them because it is absolutely going to be difficult and maybe even awful to confront? 

That one question is the crux of the whole story, the reasoning behind why a monster can lurk amongst the families in Lucille unseen and unnoticed. But as Pet says:

The truth does not change whether it is seen or unseen, it whispered in her mind. A thing that is happening happens whether you look at it or not. And yes, maybe it is easier not to look. Maybe it is easier to say because you do not see it, it is not happening. Maybe you can pull the stone out of the pool and put the moon back together.[…]

She wanted it to stop, all of it, but Pet kept talking…

What if you didn’t think about what you wanted, what you hoped? Pet asked. What if you thought about what was happening instead? How does that change your wants?

Pg. 95

At the end of the day, it is up to each of us to look, even if and especially when we do not want to. As humans, we will never be perfect, but we should always try. The only way to learn and to grow is to confront the difficult issues and have the heavy conversations, and I loved that Pet conveys this to Jam and Redemption as a straight-forward concept that is not dumbed-down or  left with things withheld because they are young.

The parents in the story, and often in real life, naturally want to protect their children from darker subjects. But sometimes “protect” gets confused with “shelter”, which in the end can have the opposite effect. Instead of being protected from an issue, they are uninformed about it. Suddenly, what we don’t want to speak of becomes unseen, regardless of if it’s really there or not, leaving those we wanted to protect most inadvertently unprepared to protect themselves against it.

And finally, I love Pet and what the author did to place this strange magical creature in a broader world. Pet is literally manifested from Bitter’s artistic creativity, which points to the ability of art to affect the viewer in a real and tangible way. In some cases, art can bring the viewer to tears, and in others in can inspire, or both. By the end of the book, it also becomes a lingering question as to whether or not Pet is an angel. Like, an actual angel. This book is in no way heavy-handed with religion except for the idea that perhaps there is more to Pet than what Jam sees. Jam senses it immediately, and pieces together the abrasiveness, the fury, and the good within Pet into something larger. I very much loved the author weaving a fairy-tale together with an almost-religious allegory into a new type of tale altogether that becomes this book, “Pet”. It is modern, yet traditional; simple, yet confounding in its complexities.

One more time, say it with me: We are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond.

And finally, always remember to ask yourself the tough questions. No one is perfect, but it is only when you stop asking the tough questions, when you stop pushing yourself, that you give in to the monsters.

There is so much more I want to talk about from this book, so please- if you have read it, leave me a comment below!

Published by francinewonders

Hi! My name is Francine and I spend a lot of time wandering about while wondering about stuff. I like to talk about cats, books, travel, and all things w@nderful. Follow me on Instagram: @francinewonders

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