Akwaeke Emezi, Pet, Faber and Faber, February 2020, 208 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780571355112
When I started reading Pet, the detailed prose, and fantasy aspects of the novel made me think that magical realism might be the best genre to describe it. But it’s not exactly that.
Pet is about the monsters we refuse to see, the ones that hide in plain sight, saying and doing the right things so that we never know they are the monsters we fear.
Pet introduces us to Jam first, a young girl who lives with her parents in Lucille. Emezi spends some time setting up Lucille as a paradise, where there are no monsters; where everyone is safe and sound and lives happily ever after. That Jam is trans is incidental, and it’s so important for young readers to see that as just something that was part of her history one time but doesn’t define her.
Everything is perfect until Jam accidentally spills some blood on her mother’s painting and brings forth into her world, Pet.
To look at Pet, with his horns and claws is to think he is a monster, but to Jam’s surprise and fear, he is there to hunt monsters. When Jam resolves to help him, she doesn’t expect the hunt to lead to the house of her best friend, Redemption.
Emezi weaves a story of the worst horrors we fear for children, and yet, adults often do not believe their experiences – and their monsters – when children reveal them. Jam and Pet are one step removed from the abuser they’re hunting at Redemption’s house, and that adds a layer of clarity to the message in this book – that monsters live among us, and everyone from adults to children should be aware of this.
Pet is thought-provoking for adults and young readers alike, I think, and it will spark important conversations for both.
Reviewed by Verushka Byrow