Book Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet is here to hunt a monster.
Are you brave enough to look?

There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours 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?

From the blurb of Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

There is so much that I loved about this book it is hard to know where to start. One thing that really struck me about this story was Jam’s characterisation – Jam is a black, trans girl who is selectively non-verbal but the story is not about any of those things. They are utterly embedded aspects of her character and those parts of her identity are woven seamlessly and naturally into the story without fanfare. Whilst I hugely value stories that specifically explore aspects of identity such as these, there was something really grounded about the representation in Pet that I loved.

The story itself is rooted heavily in metaphor and creatively confronts the idea that people who do bad things don’t stop existing just because you refuse to acknowledge they exist. It tackles some dark themes and in many ways is a psychologically heavy book, but the narrative is handled so deftly and the use of imagery in the prose is so evocative that, as a reader, I was carried right through that heavy darkness.

The angels vs monsters theme is brilliantly thought provoking and I really loved how the abstract concepts were turned into physical realities in the story, really driving home the questions “What does a monster look like?” and “What does an angel look like?”. It is a firm reminder that appearances can be deceiving and that perception is not the same as reality. It’s a story that calls on us to recognise that hiding from the truth in the name of our own comfort silences and hurts victims.

The world that Emezi has built is surreal and futuristic but carries echoes that are instantly recognisable in our own world. The relationships and connections between the characters who populate the pages, the forceful denial of past crimes and present realities, the thirst for and fear of knowledge and the horror of the story’s climax are all so vivid and real – I ached for Jam and Redemption and all their young shoulders are forced to carry.

Despite its darkness, this is beautiful story, compellingly told and with so many lessons that we should each carry with us. Our world has a lot to learn from Jam’s. Emezi is an extraordinary storyteller with a gift for character and narrative and I look forward to reading more of their work.

CW for the book: child abuse

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