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 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?
In the city of Lucille, there are no monsters.
Since the angels stepped in with their sweeping reforms, monsters have all but disappeared, leaving only love and peace behind. Jam knows this, has been taught this all her life, sees it every day. Her parents adore her, have supported her all her life. Her best friend, Redemption, is always there for her no matter what. And there are no monsters.
Except Pet arrives, here to hunt a monster, and it will not be dissuaded. There are not supposed to be monsters in Lucille, but now, Jam may have to face them all the same.
Pet is about monsters, and how they hide when you forget to keep searching for them.
Every moment of this book is saturated with the looming threat of a monster in Lucille. There shouldn’t be any, Jam knows that, but Pet’s very existence proves that something foul is at work. A monster has slipped through the cracks, defying the angels who worked so hard to create this safe haven for everyone, and it must be destroyed. That is, according to Pet, the only way to proceed.
But Jam, only seventeen, too young to remember what the world was like when monsters walked free, knows this can’t be all. How is she supposed to recognize a monster? How can she make sure monsters don’t escape her sight again? Surely whisking them away, destroying them, whatever Pet wishes to do, can’t be the only solution? Maybe it’s not even the best solution.
And so Jam helps Pet hunt a monster, because she cannot sit by and allow this to pass.
But this is also a book about love.
I was braced for tension when I started Pet. The hunt, I expected. But the sheer outpouring of love that walked side by side with that hunt? It took me by surprise in the warmest of ways. So much of Jam’s life is marked by love and affirmation, like her parent’s early acceptance that she’s trans (which includes support for medically transitioning), her loved ones’ willingness to learn sign language to continue communicating with her when she’s non-verbal, and Redemptions big, loving family ready to share love wherever it’s needed.
And yet love is also part of the hunt. Love is the willingness to look unpleasant things in the eye, so that you can identify them, so you can protect the ones you love from the harm those unpleasant things can cause. And love is preparing those closest to you to see those unpleasant things early, to stop those unpleasant things early. It’s about protecting one another and making the hard choices to keep others from needless suffering.
And I loved it.
I encourage you to read Pet with all my heart.
If you’re looking for another book to read during Black History Month, this one is great, since it’s short and wonderful all at once. And even if you don’t get to it this month, that’s fine, because Black stories ought to be celebrated and enjoyed year round. The point is, you should read it, and I hope you love it. It’s warm and loving, and at the very same time, it has a raw, painful core. The shifts between the two are almost effortless, and the result is a story that promises to linger for a long time to come. 💛
CW: police brutality mention, violence (gun violence mention), child death mention, suicide mention, child abuse, gore (including eye gore)