Pet, a YA fantasy/speculative fiction novel, by Akwaeke Emezi is set in a post-racist America: all the people who used to be monstrous — who used to make the world unsafe for others — are gone. But when the protagonist Jam meets Pet, a creature who looks like a monster, but has arrived in Jam’s life to fight them, she must face the fact that monsters still exist despite the adults in her life denying this reality. Pet has come to hunt a monster in Jam’s life, forcing her to ask: “How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they are here?”
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Literature is key in imparting our values as a society and as humans onto readers. The last year has shown an incredible and overwhelming surge in demand for diverse literature. Reading antiracist and diverse nonfiction is fantastic, but it’s also important for our stories to represent diversity as well. Pet hits the nail on the head. A vast amount of representation is present: Jam is a trans-black girl who is selectively mute and uses sign language; there are characters who are disabled, LGBTQ+, and polyamorous; and many of the characters are people of color.
Pet is record-setting in its representation of minorities, has won multiple awards, and critical reviews — from The Washington Post to the School Library Journal to Publishers Weekly — acclaim it, calling it “timely, riveting, haunting, and poetic”.
Children’s Literature, as a field, has been striving to acknowledge and rectify the dearth of diversity in children’s literature. Some of these attempts have garnered national attention: think of the controversy over the sidelining of racist images in Dr. Seuss books, or the Association for Library Service’s choice to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award because of Wilder’s personal racist views in her books. Pet provides diverse characters from a range of backgrounds and experiences on every page but doesn’t highlight their diversity. Instead, the characters are who they are, and that’s that, and that’s beautiful.
But equally importantly, Pet is just a great story. I’m deliberately not revealing more of the plot because I read this book knowing almost nothing about it, and I loved being surprised by every brilliant twist along the way. The creature, Pet, brings up a host of fascinating questions around identity. They bring questions about what an individual can do against a society that denies or rejects what that individual sees. This raises some disturbing but incredibly poignant questions about justice, race, and harm. The author, Akwaeke Emezi, is Nigerian and non-binary, and their personal experience as a minority shines through.
This is a book for young adults: although the reading level is not difficult, the content matter is mature, and there are mentions of harm done to a child which could be triggering or difficult.