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?
In their riveting and timely young adult debut, acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi asks difficult questions about what choices a young person can make when the adults around them are in denial.
Wow wow wow! This 200-page YA novel dives into the darkest of topics within one of the brightest worlds I’ve ever seen created. In a utopian society that has eradicated “monsters,” there is no crime and no prejudice. This has led people to believe that there are no more monsters…but this assumption proves to be dangerous.
This is a story that is all about appearances and heart, and how it is not easy to differentiate a monster from an angel (literally or metaphorically). I got some serious A Wrinkle in Time vibes from Pet when an otherworldly being is simultaneously scary and comforting while offering a young person a hard choice via fantasy philosophy. I hope it goes without saying that this is EXTREMELY MY SHIT, and I was very moved by Jam, Pet, and their interactions.
The names in this book are very strange (from Jam to Redemption to Whisper to Bitter), but the story is remarkable. Jam accidentally summons a creature from her mother’s painting, a creature who looks monstrous but is built to hunt monsters…one of whom lives in her best friend’s house. Her parents don’t believe it’s possible, and I adored the themes explored around people’s fear of terrible things leading them to ignore the terrible things themselves.
Although the label of “monster” makes the topics this book addresses a bit more palatable, I think it is only fair of me to acknowledge that there is child physical and sexual abuse in this book; it is not described, but it is known to have occurred.
Which leads me to my one complaint about Pet. Well, not even the story itself, but the book cover and design. The short length and the bright purple cover with a young girl in pajamas on the front made me assume that this was a middle grade book. When the text said Jam was 15 and she said “shit,” I went online and saw that it is categorized as YA. This makes much more sense considering the dark themes of the story, and I wish this were reflected in its design.
Pet is one of the best books I read in 2021, and I am very curious to read Emezi’s adult novels!
What Makes This Book Queer?
Jam is a 15-year old trans girl. She doesn’t speak often, preferring to sign her words instead. When she does speak aloud, it’s for something truly important. When she was three, the first word she said (yelled, actually), was “Girl! Girl! Girl!” Her parents took her tiny word for it and stopped referring to her as their son. Her knowledge of herself is respected regardless of age, and she is given access to the hormones and surgery that allow her body to develop in more feminine ways during puberty. This is all explained within a page or two as an example of how this utopia differs from our current reality. Other than this section (and I think one mention later in the book), Jam is always referred to entirely as a girl. It feels revolutionary precisely because it’s NOT the focus of the book.
Non-heteronormative relationships are also displayed in Redemption’s family. He has three parents, one of whom is non-gendered and goes by they/them pronouns. Overall, this world is just blithely accepting of everyone, and it’s beautiful.
Find more books nominated for Lambda Literary Awards reviewed here!