‘Pet’ Proves Not All Monsters Live Under Your Bed
By Rashauna Tunson
Akwaeke Emezi’s dark fantasy Pet is a wildly captivating and incredibly astute middle grade novel that will linger in your brain long after you finish it.
Enter the mysterious utopian city of Lucille, where monsters no longer exist. There’s no more racism, murder, abuse, corruption, or greed after the Angels lead the revolution against the monsters. Children are taught that monsters no longer exist, and the grown-ups of the town refuse to recognize the trauma or the fallout endured to create their paradise, and they assume monsters to be a thing of days long past. Meet Jam, a Black transgirl with selective mutism, who prefers to communicate through sign language. She lives with her affirming parents: artist Bitter, who paints as if in a trance — and her father Aloe. She also has a second surrogate family gained through her best friend, Redemption. She learns a lot about love, devotion and empathy by watching her own parents, as well as Redemption’s large, boisterous blended family interact and care for each other. Jam has every belief that her world is complacent.
After sneaking into her mother’s sacred studio late one night, Jam accidentally cuts her hand and drips blood onto an unfinished portrait her Bitter left on the floor. Before Jam can even scramble to clean up her mess, a creature made up of horns, swirls of color, and malicious energy claws its way out of the canvas — simply stating that it is called Pet and that it has traveled across unknown dimensions with the sole purpose of hunting a monster that has been allowed to fester under everyone’s nose in Lucille and that monster may lurk in the “House of Redemption”. Together, Pet and Jam must uncover the truth that lies clouded in shadow. As she is tasked with finding the truth, she finds herself asking, “How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?” Jam discovers that the truth in the adult world is not as black and white as it would seem, and that some adults would happily prefer to live in denial than face reality.
Pet is a book brimming with powerful allegory, religious symbolism, the fight of good versus evil, coming of age and lessons that we can learn from people that we come across. Emezi’s writing is whimsical, effortlessly diverse and incredibly poignant; I lost count how many times I had to stop reading the book to frantically scribble quotes onto a Post-It note. I am also in awe of how they were able to pack such a punch into such a limited page count. This book wants you to think about the discomfort of victims — Emezi provides a voice for people who might be silenced — because they’re too young, too naïve, etc — and they want us to personally reflect on our own morals and the morals of the world around us. While not explicitly stated, there is some allusion to child abuse and while that topic is heavy Akwaeke handles it appropriately, in a totally middle grade appropriate way (but I do recommend talking with your young ones about the themes found in this book and what they understood/had trouble with).
I think that all ages will enjoy this book and that Pet certainly should be on everyone’s to-read list!
About the Author
Rashauna Tunson (she/her) is a lifelong resident of Denver, Colorado and is a proud Black Queer. She is passionate about equality, Disco music, quoting ancient memes and petting cats. You can follow Rashauna on Twitter at @sk8tergrrrl666 or — if you’re lucky — you can catch her whipping around town on her roller skates!