“There shouldn’t be any monsters left in Lucille.” The city of Lucille is a utopia. A generation ago, a resistance toppled all the monsters — monsters in this case meaning people: unjust politicians, bigots, predators. The leaders of the revolution are now called “angels” and are revered as elders. Jam is a teenage girl growing up in Lucille, and she appreciates the better world the angels built; as a black trans girl, she knows the world that came before would not have been as welcoming to her. But she still has questions that her teachers are hesitant to answer.
Jam’s life changes when she accidentally brings to life a strange, feathered creature from one of her mother’s paintings. The creature tells Jam to call it Pet, and that it is here to hunt a monster. The monster, Pet says, lives in the home of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Jam’s parents insist that Pet must be mistaken, because there are no more monsters in Lucille. Because Jam was the one who awakened it, she has the power to banish it, and her parents tell her to do so.
Jam disobeys her parents because she can’t take the chance that Redemption is being harmed, but she still hopes Pet is wrong. Pet (2019), by Akwaeke Emezi, is about — among other things — how we don’t see what we don’t want to see. This is true on the micro level, as Jam doesn’t want to believe there could be an abuser in Redemption’s large, tight-knit family, and on the macro level, as the city of Lucille doesn’t want to believe monsters could still exist within it.
Emezi writes with beautiful prose and subtle emotional nuance, while at the same time building an unbearable tension that makes Pet hard to put down. Throughout the story, Pet encourages Jam to grow and do better — to be more honest, to look more closely. While it explores some heavy issues, it also contains some twists that made me gasp or grin in delight. The moment when (though I had figured out generally what Pet was) I learned why Pet looks the specific way it does. The exchange in which, after being changed by her time with Pet, Jam finds the courage to try to change Pet’s mind about something too. The way a particular phrase, spoken casually early in the book, becomes a refrain and one of the major themes of the whole thing.
There are so many other little touches to appreciate, such as Emezi’s use of linguistics and food to bring various characters’ respective backgrounds to life. I really felt that I inhabited this world during the time I was reading Pet.
Pet is a short novel that wastes no detail. It has the feel of a fable or a fairy tale, and like all the best fairy tales, it’s transformative. It has won or been nominated for a number of awards (as I write this, it’s just been named a Locus finalist) and it is well deserving of these honors. I loved it.