Book Review

Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi

Genre | YA Fantasy
Page #s | 272
Publishing Date | February 2022

Bitter is thrilled to have been chosen to attend Eucalyptus, a special school where she can focus on her painting surrounded by other creative teens. But outside this haven, the streets are filled with protests against the deep injustices that grip the town of Lucille. Bitter’s instinct is to stay safe within the walls of Eucalyptus . . . but her friends aren’t willing to settle for a world that the adults say is “just the way things are.

Pulled between old friendships, her creative passion, and a new romance, Bitter isn’t sure where she belongs – in the art studio or in the streets. And if she does find a way to help the revolution while being true to who she is, she must also ask: at what cost?


The prequel to Pet (one of my favorite reads last year), I had high expectations for Bitter, and I would say they were mostly met. The world of Pet was one in which monsters were eradicated and people had stopped being vigilant. Bitter is the story of Pet’s mother and how she played a role in the eradication of monsters. It’s worth noting that here, monsters mean people, and this is the strongest facet of both books. Throughout the early chapters, we hear about billionaires who exploit their workers, police who shoot protesters, and they are described in such a way that I kept thinking, “MONSTERS! Oh, wait, whoa, these are everyday occurrences in real life… How have I become so desensitized to how terrible this is??”

In opposition to the terrible (real) world, two factions have arisen. There is a group of protesters and a school of artists; Bitter is in the latter, and she feels real and self-imposed judgement for not wanting to join the protesters. I really enjoyed the way the book explored art as protest and how not everyone needs to take to the streets…but that also, maybe you should sometimes.

All of this combined with a cast of queer characters living messy lives means I should have loved it from the start, but I found that the first half of the book read as a little slow to me. It wasn’t until Bitter raised an angel from her artwork that I was hooked. The way Emezi depicts angels is exactly the kind of terrifying Old Testament too-many-eyes creature that I am Here For! At one point an angel basically says, “Why do you think angels are always saying, ‘Do not be afraid’ when they appear?” and I nearly fell over from Oh Snap-ing so hard. This is liberal areligious theology nerdom at its best.

In contrast to Pet‘s focus on the individual, Bitter focuses on group responsibility, asking questions like: What is allowable in a revolution? Is bloodshed necessary? If so, how much? There aren’t easy answers, but it’s asking the questions that matters most.

Who Do I Recommend This Book To?

Give Bitter alongside Pet; these books go together and will pack the most punch as a unit!

Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!

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