Reading Pet was the highlight of my February

And it should be the highlight of your March!

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Emezi’s Pet has won the Walter Dean Myers Honor Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature and is a Stonewall Honor Book as well as a National Book Award Finalist.

I can already tell you that Pet by Akwaeke Emezi will be one of my favorite books from 2021, and it’s for three simple reasons:

1. The Plot

“Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?” When a figure, Pet (referred to by “it”), comes out of one of her mother’s paintings, Jam must join forces with it to hunt the monster in her best friend Redemption’s house. Set in a “utopia” called Lucille, the story follows Jam as she tries to come to terms with the existence of a monster in her supposedly perfect world.

I’m a sucker for a strong and unshakable friendship, and Jam and Redemption are the poster children for this. They support each other wholly, to a degree you can’t find in most YA novels, and to have that relationship be platonic is unheard-of in the genre. It was refreshing to read about a friendship that felt so genuine.

The relationship between Pet and Jam was also unlike others I’ve read. For someone who was brought to the world through a painting, Pet understands Jam and her oh-so-human struggle well. It introduces Jam to the real world and shows her hard truths about her world but does so in a way that is empathetic and kind. It cares about her, even if it looks so monstrous at first glance. Jam finds both a mentor and a friend in Pet, and there’s no betrayal of trust between them to cause tension for the sake of tension.

2. The Writing

Last month, for the MHS book club, I read another novel about a world with monsters and tragedy. The premise sounded amazing, and I went in with high hopes, but the execution fell short. The writing just wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

Emezi, however, did not disappoint. From the first page, you can tell that they are a talented author. I marked my copy of this book with more sticky notes than I know what to do with because there were so many lines I didn’t want to forget about. And when you get to the end? You’ll be flipping back through to catch all the moments you now realize were foreshadowing. You know that a book with a mystery is well written when you realize who-done-it and have to sit down because all the events leading up to the reveal and all the details that seemed fuzzy at first are suddenly crystal clear and make such sense. 

I’ve never paid much attention to dialect, unless I’ve been told to, but while reading Pet,I was struck by how much I loved the way the characters spoke. Every character has their own specific way of speaking, and they’re all similar enough to feel like the characters are close with each other. We all have a phrase we’ve picked up from a friend or a family saying that outsiders don’t understand, and that’s what this book feels like. You feel like you were invited to a family barbecue and everyone knows everyone; the characters have palpable chemistry and are truly jump-off-the-page realistic. Pet, however, has a very unique way of speaking, and it emphasizes how it is of a different world. When everyone sounds so casual with each other and then you have Pet speaking so oddly compared to the rest, you feel the same unsettling feeling that the characters do looking at him.

The world building is phenomenal. It’s a contemporary setting where corruption has been rooted out of the world fairly recently, and society feels comfortable and safe. It truly feels like a utopia at first. Jam is transgender, and usually, books with a trans protagonists make that aspect of their character the main focus of the book. However, Emezi, who is non-binary themselves, makes her gender identity just one facet of Jam’s personality, not the focus of the novel. She is a character fighting a battle who happens to be trans, not one fighting the trans battle. It feels normal and easy, emphasizing how accepting and kind Lucille is. Redemption also has three parents who are in a polygamous relationship, and this is also acknowledged but not focused on. Emezi finds the perfect balance and is able to make these things feel natural — acknowledged but not seen as something odd or difficult in their world. It’s a comforting feeling for their audience because no matter who is reading their book, they can find a place in Lucille for them.

3. The Message

Emezi challenges the definition of a monster and a good person and shows their audience how appearances can be deceiving. With themes of family and love, Pet is both heartwarming and heartbreaking to read. Emezi says beautiful things about identity and truth and trying to find yourself as you grow. You empathize with Jam and her turmoil, and the advice Pet gives her is just as applicable to us as it is to her. You will leave this book feeling better about the world, even when the whole premise is finding the hidden corruption in it.

I wholeheartedly loved this book, and you will too. No matter who you are or what struggles you’re facing, this book will make you feel seen. So go out, buy some sticky note tabs and a copy of Pet, and get ready for a journey.