Pet: The human meets the divine, and both are changed

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsPet by Akwaeke Emezi science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsPet by Akwaeke Emezi

“There shouldn’t be any monsters left in Lucille.” The city of Lucille is a utopia. A generation ago, a resistance toppled all the monsters — monsters in this case meaning people: unjust politicians, bigots, predators. The leaders of the revolution are now called “angels” and are revered as elders. Jam is a teenage girl growing up in Lucille, and she appreciates the better world the angels built; as a black trans girl, she knows the world that came before would not have been as welcoming to her. But she still has questions that her teachers are hesitant to answer.

Jam’s life changes when she accidentally brings to life a strange, feathered creature from one of her mother’s paintings. The creature tells Jam to call it Pet, and that it is here to hunt a monster. The monster, Pet says, lives in the home of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Jam’s parents insist that Pet must be mistaken, because there are no more monsters in Lucille. Because Jam was the one who awakened it, she has the power to banish it, and her parents tell her to do so.

She doesn’t.

Jam disobeys her parents because she can’t take the chance that Redemption is being harmed, but she still hopes Pet is wrong. Pet (2019), by Akwaeke Emezi, is about — among other things — how we don’t see what we don’t want to see. This is true on the micro level, as Jam doesn’t want to believe there could be an abuser in Redemption’s large, tight-knit family, and on the macro level, as the city of Lucille doesn’t want to believe monsters could still exist within it.

Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi

Emezi writes with beautiful prose and subtle emotional nuance, while at the same time building an unbearable tension that makes Pet hard to put down. Throughout the story, Pet encourages Jam to grow and do better — to be more honest, to look more closely. While it explores some heavy issues, it also contains some twists that made me gasp or grin in delight. The moment when (though I had figured out generally what Pet was) I learned why Pet looks the specific way it does. The exchange in which, after being changed by her time with Pet, Jam finds the courage to try to change Pet’s mind about something too. The way a particular phrase, spoken casually early in the book, becomes a refrain and one of the major themes of the whole thing.

There are so many other little touches to appreciate, such as Emezi’s use of linguistics and food to bring various characters’ respective backgrounds to life. I really felt that I inhabited this world during the time I was reading Pet.

Pet is a short novel that wastes no detail. It has the feel of a fable or a fairy tale, and like all the best fairy tales, it’s transformative. It has won or been nominated for a number of awards (as I write this, it’s just been named a Locus finalist) and it is well deserving of these honors. I loved it.

Published in 2019. The highly-anticipated, genre-defying new novel by award-winning author Akwaeke Emezi 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? Acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi makes their riveting and timely young adult debut with a book that asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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