I love books that surprise me and challenge my initial assumptions. For some strange reason - I still can't explain it - neither the title nor description nor hardcover edition of Akwaeke Emezi's Pet appealed to me and it horrifies me to imagine how that could have meant the end for this wonderful book and me. Luckily the book was shortlisted for the National Book Awards 2019 Prize for Young Adult Literature and I realised that I very much needed to read it.
The problem I'm facing now is that I'm unsure if my review can do justice to this book. Akwaeke Emezi took so much care to create this world but I'm a mere reader, not a godlike genius with mad writing skills like them and I'm finding it so hard to put my thoughts into something resembling coherence and do this work of art justice.
For it is a work of art.
Nevertheless, I set myself a target of seeking out superior young adult fiction, books that are "fantastic, diverse, original, heartbreaking, uplifting, powerful, moving and inspiring" and Pet absolutely meets every one of those criteria. I'm going to finish this review that has, to date, taken eight weeks to write and I'm going to recommend that absolutely everybody buys this for a teen (or YA lover) in their life.
Pet features a transgender, selectively mute protagonist who unleashes a creature of justice and vengeance into a world supposedly free of monsters. It turns out that monsters aren't always who you expected them to be.
Jam is one of my favourite characters of all time. She is transgender but Pet is not about that, it's not even about how loving and accepting her parents were when she asserted her gender identity at the age of three. She just is and I love reading about confident, secure and principled characters like this. Jam is the daughter of an African father and islands-descended mother. All she has ever known is the post-struggle life in Lucille but her parents remember the time before.
Akwaeke Emezi has created an incredibly beautiful world. Set sometime in the not-too-distant future, monsters have been rehabilitated and all of the hatred, bigotry and violence in the world has been eradicated. In the small, fictional town of Lucille, America, struggle heroes known as Angels are revered and life is safe and calm.
Jam's mother has a talent, a way of bringing her art to life but Jam had no way of knowing how literal this talent is. When Jam sneaks into her mother's art studio at night, she unwittingly gives life to a piece of art, releasing a terrifying creature into the world. The creature isn't there for her though, the creature is there to deliver justice in the home of Jam's best friend Redemption. It seems that the monsters had simply gone into hiding.
I remember more wonderful aspects about Pet every time I think about it: the complexity and richness of the characters, the detail with which their lives were described. I loved how Emezi effortlessly writes complex, diverse characters in a way that is part of the character but not the story itself.
This has undoubtedly been the toughest review I've ever tried to write and I unequivocally give Pet a superb five out of five stars. If you love literature and magic, complex, diverse characters and fierce girl protagonists then read Pet.