Book Review: Akwaeke Emezi's _Pet_

Book Review: Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet

by Renn

I cannot tell you how rare and beautiful it is that a novel like Pet exists. A novel where a largely nonverbal transgender girl—whose transness and neurodivergence are made clear early on, and that the reader is continually reminded of in small ways—can go on a hunt for a monster with the terrifying creature who emerges from her mother’s painting. A novel where a boy can be a trained fighter for no reason other than the thrill of being alive, and at the same time be casually affectionate with his best friend-who-is-a-girl. A novel packed with Black people and queer people and queer Black people in a committed polyamorous relationship. A novel that addresses how a family can have so much love for their child that they inadvertently cause the child harm when they choose to listen to their own need to care and protect over the voice of the child themself.

The premise is such: there are no monsters left in the city of Lucille, ever since the revolution swept through and dismantled the police and the prisons and the system allowing billionaires to profit off of underpaid labor. The children of Lucille, a generation or two removed from the monsters, can grow up in a world where they don’t need to worry about these people any more. Which makes it all the more terrifying when Jam accidentally summons Pet, a righteous being of horns and claws and fur and smoke, who tells her it has come to hunt a monster in the house of her best friend, Redemption. The question at the heart of the novel, then, is How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Now, here’s the most brilliant part of Pet: I knew who the monster was from the very first time they were described on the page. I knew who the monster’s victim was less than halfway through the book. Not because anything about their behavior or descriptions gave them away, but because the world we live in today is one where the revolution is only just beginning to recognize monsters for what they are. I live in a world still full of monsters, so I know the seemingly benign signs hinting at one. Jam, born and raised in Lucille, does not. When Pet instructs her to look for anything telling in Redemption’s house, she sees only his large, boisterous family, full of light and warmth and love.

Normally, being able to figure out the big plot twist (or, in this case, monster reveal) so early in the book is a mark of poor writing. In Pet, the opposite is true: by making the person who turns out to be a monster recognizable to someone who knows what a monster can look like, Akwaeke Emezi sets the story up perfectly to emphasize that children must be taught about monsters and not blindly shielded from them. That even the most unpleasant atrocities of history must be made known in order to not repeat them. That everyone must listen to the victims of monsters, rather than the monster and their reputation, or the supposedly sufficient measures put in place to stop them. Especially when the victim of the monster is a child.

I cannot tell you how much I love Pet, which addresses such complex themes for younger readers in a comprehensive and nuanced way. No matter how many years life has since put between yourself and the teenaged Jam, this novel is sure to resound with you if you have ever felt unheard or marginalized in any way.