The Monsters Among Us: Akwaeke Emezi – Pet

During the second half of the worldwide shit show that is 2020, I am going to read (at least) ten new-to-me Black authors and Akweake Emezi is one that kept showing up on recommendation lists. I’m so glad I picked up their book Pet and I already bought their debut novel Freshwater because, after this, it’s not going to be too long before I want more!

by Akwaeke Emezi

Published: Make Me a World, 2019
Hardback: 208 pages
My rating: 8/10

Opening line:

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?

There are no monsters in Lucille. Jam and her best friend Redemption know that as well as anyone. It’s only in the adults’ eyes that they sometimes catch a glimpse of a time before the Revolution, when monsters still lived among humans, when you couldn’t be sure that you were safe, where people didn’t help and uplift each other.
I don’t know how this book will work for young adult or even younger readers, but as an adult reading it, the idea of monsters and their rehabilitation is fairly obvious – as I’m sure it was intended to be. Monsters in Jam’s world were the kinds of people who get away with doing wrong things in our world, in our time. Whether it’s actual criminals who hurt people or simply the super-rich who don’t mind watching people live in poverty while they themselves have too much of everything. Monsters aren’t ever really defined and they don’t need to be. As soon as you pick up this book, you know the deal.

Jam was such an intriguing protagonist to follow. It’s not just because she is a transgirl who has undergone transition and is just… accepted by everyone – that was incredibly refreshing. I mean, how many books have you read with transgender protagonists who just get to be who they are without making an issue out of it? But she also uses sign language to communicate. It’s never made clear why she decides to stay mute most of the time (she can and does speak occasionally) and, again, nobody reacts weirdly, her family and friends accept this is how she communicates and they have adjusted accordingly – by learning sign language themselves. Whenever Jam does decide to vocalize, it lends more importance to her words and makes for even more powerful scenes. I urge you to check out ownvoices reviews for in-depth commentary but for me – a cis woman – it was simply wonderful to read a story from a perspective so different to my own.

The story seems deceptively simple but this book is more about what’s between the lines, what remains unsaid. Jam accidentally cuts herself and spills some blood on her mother’s painting of a terrifying creature which brings that creature to life. Enter the eponymous Pet, a self-proclaimed hunter of monsters who shares a telepathic connection with Jam and enlists her help in finding a monster that supposedly is inside her best friend Redemption’s house. Torn between disbelief and wanting desperately to protect her friend, Jam agrees to at least look if there’s anything to see, if there could really be a monster living in Redemption’s house.

While I adored the interactions between Jam and Pet, this novel also has a lot to teach its readers. As Pet says early on, people see what they want to see. We believe what we want to believe because anything else is too frightening. Pet never judges, but accepts humans for what we are. And Pet also teaches Jam to see the unseen, to look a little closer, to educate herself and find out that monsters don’t necessarily look scary but can come in all shapes and sizes.
Just like the question of what monsters even were in this world, I also found it quite obvious what particular kind of monster might be hiding in Redemption’s house and while Emezi still has a twist up their sleeve, I was unfortunately right about the nature of this monster. None of the monster’s actions are mentioned explicitly, but we rather get to see their effect on the victim, which made everything feel even more real and terrifying.

The friendship between Jam and Redemption was another beautiful aspect of this book. These two teenagers know each other really well, they know when to give the other one space, when they need a hug, how to protect and love each other and how to communicate their feelings. Whether Redemption helps Jam get through an anxiety attack or Jam apologizes for a mistake she made, I always had the feeling that these are two people who respect each other. Man, do I wish more relationships were like this!

Pet was a book that I just couldn’t put down. Whenever I had to, I started fidgeting, wanting to get back to Jam and Pet and follow them as they make their world a little better. It also helped that the prose just flowed beautifully. Emezi says so much without using many words. She created entire family units with just a handful of lines, she gives all her characters personality – either through the way they talk or little descriptions here and there – and she tells an engaging and sometimes hard to read story about how even in the best of all possible worlds, people have to keep on their toes. Living in a utopia doesn’t mean the work is done. You have to do your best to keep it safe for everyone and that means learning about the bad things as well as the good, understanding your past, and, always, always, having empathy even for creatures that may appear monstrous.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!


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