Akwaeke Emezi, the acclaimed nonbinary author of last year’s buzzy adult novel Freshwater, further asserts themself as a unique, bold new voice in fiction with the surreal Pet.
The people of the town of Lucille live a blessed life. The heroes known as angels chased away all the monsters, and kids like Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up without the threats that kept their parents and grandparents in fear.
Jam’s mother, Bitter, tells her daughter that monsters and angels aren’t like the ones she might have seen in old books. “It’s all just people,” she says, “doing hard things or doing bad things.” But Jam starts to reconsider her mother’s words when a frightening creature in her mother’s latest painting comes to life. The creature asks Jam to call it Pet and says that it’s on a mission—to hunt and kill the monster that, Pet claims, is lurking unseen in Redemption’s otherwise loving and happiness-filled home.
Jam is skeptical, not to mention fearful. But as she begins to trust Pet, she starts to question much of what she’s been told, and soon she and Redemption must decide for themselves what brand of justice is best suited for the monster that might lurk in their midst.
By conceptualizing sexual violence, physical abuse, drug use and other social ills as literal monsters, Emezi gives young readers much to think about, from questioning authority and received wisdom to redefining justice. Emezi’s characters are diverse in race, physical ability and especially gender. Jam is a transgender girl, and Redemption has three parents, one of whom is nonbinary.
Despite Jam’s growing realization that Lucille is far from the utopia she’s been told it is, readers might see in Jam’s surroundings a version of a world that they, like Jam, might choose to fight for.