Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

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Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: A sometimes unsettling mix of children's fairytale and dark horror, this is a story with heart, and an engaging lead character.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: November 2019
Publisher: Faber & Faber
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0571355112

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The people of the town Lucille believe that all the monsters are gone. Their children are raised to understand that they were saved by the angels, those who rid the town of evil, and there are no monsters anymore. But one day, Jam accidentally cuts herself, and bleeds a little onto one of her mother's paintings. The blood awakens a bizarre, terrifying-looking creature named Pet, who somehow comes to life and declares that it is here to hunt the monster. Though Jam tries to convince it that all the monsters are gone, Pet is certain that there is one, still, and that the monster is hiding in the home of her best friend, Redemption.

Whilst the story's main character is a selective mute trans girl, and there's an all-black cast, a librarian in a wheelchair, and a marriage between three people, one of whom uses the pronouns they and their, diversity isn't the focus. These aspects are just fact, and I really liked how we read that Jam was able to just decide, as a small child, that she was a girl and then the society she lives in supported her in that decision in every way. What the book is about is monsters, how they don't look the way you think they're going to, and how they can hide in plain sight. I felt it was interesting, the denial Jam's parents jump towards when they first see Pet, trying desperately to convince Jam, and themselves, that there aren't any monsters anymore. They would never do anything to hurt Jam, but still, their denial endangers everyone. There is such desperation to believe that they really did get rid of all the monsters, but of course the truth is that hunting the monsters merely pushed them further into hiding.

Because Jam is a selective mute, she communicates through sign language, or with Pet, through telepathy. An interesting relationship builds between Pet and Jam, and I found myself alternately charmed by Pet, and horrified. The style of the writing also hovers between seeming very child-friendly, with much of it reading as though it is written for a much younger audience, but then contained within are these much darker, adult notes, turning it from a children's novel to a teen or adult horror. I think some readers would find that unsettling, though I felt it made it a very powerful read.

I loved Jam's relationship with the librarian, the easy love between her parents, and the warm, lively family life at her friend's house. There's a lot of beautiful writing in the book, and captured family moments that are easy to imagine as you read. There is no explanation of how Pet happens, or why, or where Lucille is, or what time period or world the characters are living in. But none of that really matters, because the story picks you up and carries you along, and you just race through to see it to it's terrifying end.

Further reading: You might also like to try Rose, Interrupted by Patrice Lawrence.

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