Review of Pet

by Akwaeke Emezi
Middle School    Make Me a World/Random    204 pp.
9/19    978-0-525-64707-2    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-525-64708-9    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-64709-6    $10.99

A haunting and poetic work of speculative fiction—the first for young readers by adult author Emezi. Jam, the adolescent protagonist, is a transgender hearing person who communicates selectively, using both sign language and vocal speech. She was born after a revolution in which human (and some non-human) “angels” rid her now-utopian town of monsters (monster being a catch-all term for oppressors and manifestations of evil). When Jam trips over a painting made by her artist mother, she is cut with blades embedded in the work. Jam’s blood hits the canvas, and the grotesque figure her mother created (described as having goat legs, a twisted torso, feathers, horns, and human hands) churns to life. The creature’s name is Pet, and it has come to hunt a monster. Worse yet, this monster is said to live in the house of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. The plot moves steadily as Jam investigates Pet’s claims, and the story intensifies to a startling climax. The lyrical, philosophical text includes cultural markers from the African diaspora (Jam’s caregivers lovingly use the French term of endearment “doux-doux”; she listens to soca music while styling her hair in twists). Its theme of deeply examining self-proclaimed bias- or harm-free spaces has contemporary relevance, yet the engrossing, open-ended narrative (with somewhat nebulous world-building) carries a universality separate from any specific place or time. A thoughtful, indelible story about truth, justice, and remembering: “Forgetting is how the monsters come back.”

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Elisa Gall

Elisa Gall is a teacher-librarian at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. 

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