Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (Make Me a World 2019)
Reviewed by Robert Drinkwater
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi is set in a utopian city, Lucille, where evil people, also called “monsters” no longer exist, but have been replaced by “angels”, good people who try to establish justice and peace. Pet explores a world which may look peaceful and perfect on the outside, but is in fact full of monsters. In many ways, the book mirrors the systemic racism and issues of justice that characterize the current political situation in the United States.
This book follows Jam, a black, transgender girl who lives in Lucille. Like the rest of the people there, she believes that monsters no longer exist. That is until she is visited by a creature that comes out of one of her mother’s paintings named Pet. Pet has come to hunt a monster who happens to be residing in the house of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. We follow Jam and Redemption as they try to overcome their disbelief of monsters, and find out the monster’s identity. One of the core messages of the book is an appeal to overcome complacency during challenging times. The characters continue to believe that there are no longer monsters, and if there was one, it would be obvious. As they grapple with the realization that it is not black and white, and that a monster can be someone in your own family, they find out that they cannot continue to let injustice go unnoticed.
A memorable quote that recurs throughout this book is: “See the unseen”. This was first said to Jam by Pet when she joins him on the hunt for the monster. This message guides her and Redemption as they try to find out who this monster is, and who they are hurting. Justice is a key part of this book, as we see the characters grapple with how to enact justice on this monster. Emezi shows us a world that takes place after a revolution in which monsters who committed violent acts, like bombing countries and separating children from their families, have been replaced by angels. Emezi shows us a society where monsters are not out in the open, but hidden amongst us. In many ways, it parallels our own world.
“The angels took the laws and changed them, tore down those horrible statues of rich men who’d owned and fought to keep owning people. The angels believed and the people agreed that there was a good amount of proper and deserved shame in history and some things were just never going to be things to be proud of.” (2)
From the very start of this book, we get to see what the city of Lucille is like and how it came to be this way. Right off the bat Emezi makes a powerful statement about the confederate monuments that are still displayed in cities in the U.S. today. Some might think that removing these statues would erase history, but keeping them on display is blatantly ignoring the fact that these statues commemorate horrible people who did horrible things. We shouldn’t have statues of people who supported slavery. Germany has banned the Nazi insignia. Why should the U.S. be any different?
I really enjoyed the characters in this book. Jam was always there for her friend Redemption, even if she had trouble showing it. Their friendship was a strong part of this book. It isn’t perfect, but these two are always there for one another, showing a healthy platonic relationship full of love and admiration. I also loved Jam’s parents. Her dad was kind, patient, and loving, and her mom was strong, and pushed her to be her best self. Both of them supported her transition when she came out as trans. They showed nothing but love and compassion. It was nice to see such a healthy family dynamic in a book.
“The truth does not change whether it is seen or unseen.” (167)
Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean that it is not there. This is a common theme in this book. Jam and Redemption have to take a closer look at the people in their lives in order to figure who the monster is. Regardless of people believing that monsters no longer exist, there are still some out there and being in denial about will not change that fact. It parallels our world: many people deny the presence of systemic racism.
Despite the fact that there are still monsters in Lucille, Emezi shows us a desirable utopia.There are no cops. Justice is carried out by the people and the courts. Everyone has a fair trial. These are issues in the U.S. because black people are killed by cops at a statistically higher rate than white people, often with no justice. The Black Lives Matter movement has been fighting for peace and justice against police brutality. The phrase Abolish The Police has been trending on social media. Emezi shows us a world where that has happened. Bad people get brought to justice and everyone gets a fair trial. Police brutality no longer exists. Instead creatures like Pet work to hunt monsters. Emezi gives us a world in which those who commit terrible crimes are held accountable.
This book shows that despite the world seemingly not having monsters after the revolution, there are still some hiding amongst us and we cannot look away from it. We need to hold people accountable and bring them to justice. Pet has strong main characters; my favorite parts are when Pet and Jam clash on their ideas of justice. Pet thinks that violence was the answer, but Jam thinks that there are better ways to bring monsters to justice. This is a book about justice, friendship, being aware of the monsters that surround you in everyday life, and realizing that complacency during tough times can destroy a utopian society. This book has an all-black cast of characters, and amplifies black voices. We see Jam learn to be less passive about injustice throughout the book. Akwaeke Emezi gives us strong characters who lift each other up during a challenging time not unlike our own.
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