BookBrowse Reviews Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

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Pet

by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi X
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2021, 208 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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In this eclectic YA fantasy, a creature from a painting comes to life, and enlists the help of a teenage girl to hunt down a monster.

Jam was born into a world after the monsters were eradicated. They were not monsters with fangs and claws; they looked like ordinary people. But they hid dark and monstrous secrets: racism, homophobia, greed, political corruption, abuse. With many of the human "angels" who fought for and won justice a generation ago still living there and holding positions of authority, Jam's comfortable town of Lucille believes itself safe from the old monsters.

But Jam's artist mother is working on a frightening painting in her studio. The figure in the painting looks a bit like the scarier depictions of angels Jam has seen in old art books. When Jam accidentally cuts herself on a shard of metal embedded in the thick layers of paint, the creature—huge, with the furry hindquarters of a goat, feathers on its upper body, a face that blurs in and out of focus, and curling ram-like horns—crawls its way off the canvas and into Jam's world. It announces that she may call it "Pet," and proclaims its mission: it is hunting a monster in serene and idyllic Lucille. The creature is enlisting Jam's assistance, because the monster and its victim may both be people she knows and loves, members of the extended family of her best friend, Redemption.

The moral and ethical questions addressed by this allegorical novel are relevant today, and approached via a story accessible to young people. Beyond Pet's mission to right a moral wrong, there are also strong and positive elements of diversity. Jam herself is transgender, and her transition process is overwhelmingly accepted by family and the community. Redemption's immediate household is non-binary, with three parental adults: a woman and a man, plus gender-fluid Whisper. Ube, Lucille's wise, street-talking librarian, does his job from a wheelchair.

However, the book seems to be uncertain of its primary audience. It is barely 200 pages long, with a large typeface. The colorful cover art, in particular the preteen-looking depiction of Jam, would seem designed to attract middle grade readers. Though the book's description on the back cover identifies this as a "young adult debut" novel, it also refers to the "children" of Lucille—again, skewing young. Yet there is profanity scattered throughout the book, which some might consider inappropriate for middle schoolers, steering it towards an older audience than its physical appearance implies. And the story's climax, in which Pet finally confronts its foe, is graphic and downright nightmare-inducing.

Pet is the first book released under the new Make Me a World imprint of Random House. Make Me a World is headed by Christopher Myers, son of the late pivotal African American children's/young adult author Walter Dean Myers. Christopher Myers is himself an award-winning author and artist who collaborated several times with his father. He is committed, through the books he selects for publication, to "imagine a universe in which no young person is invisible, in which no kid's story is erased, in which no glass ceiling presses down on the dreams of a child."

Pet is a timely story for today, when it often seems as though "monsters" pop up in the news on a daily basis. The novel is cathartic, and Jam and her avenging angel are champions to cheer for.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in September 2019, and has been updated for the January 2021 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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