We are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond.
In Pet, author Akwaeke Emezi shows us a world full of hope and empathy. The town of Lucille, like the rest of the world, used to be riddled with society’s vile and vicious monsters. Until one day the people decided to get rid of them, burning the old world and the old ways to the ground. From the ashes, the victorious self-proclaimed angels constructed a community centered around compassion and comprehension. A place in which everyone is free to live out their truths. Without monsters there is no fear, after all. No vulnerability. No peril.
“Step one of making a new world is that you have to be able to imagine it. I think sometimes that’s where the storytellers come in. Some people might have difficulty imagining a world where black trans kids are safe, where there are no police, where there are no prisons. So books kind of help you. Or Pet, in this case, can help create that window of possibility. If you can imagine it, that’s the first step in making it happen.”
But humans have a tendency of manifesting our own monsters. And monsters have a tendency of slipping through the cracks. Convinced that their way of life is changeless, the residents of Lucille begin to forget, and their willful ignorance makes for fertile soil, allowing bad things to take root once more, hidden and unseen by the complacent crowds.
Rising up to face this veiled evil is Jam, one of my favorite protagonists in recent memory. With Jam, Emezi showcases the very best of their imaginative community: a trans girl who is immediately, readily accepted, supported, and nurtured by her family and her community. A trans girl in a story that’s not about the pain and struggle of her identity. A story in which she does not get hurt. A story in which she, instead, gets to be the hero.
“If I’m writing something for black trans kids, what spell do I want to cast? I want to cast a spell where a black trans girl is never hurt. Her parents are completely supportive. Her community is completely supportive. She’s not in danger. She gets to have adventures with her best friend. And I hope that that’s a useful spell for young people. I hope that’s a spell where someone reads that and they’re like, this is like what my life should be like. This is a possibility.”
Ultimately, Pet is an optimistic tale, one that dares us to imagine a world where we can not only recognize our own faults but actively do the work to fix them. But it is also, at times, a very rough, disturbing read — it’s a story about evil, after all. And although the reader is never subjected to anything explicit, the text is evocative enough to unnerve. Those particularly sensitive to distressing subjects, I’d recommend looking up this book’s trigger warnings (which I don’t include here mainly because I think they contain spoilers for the story).
Pet is unlike anything I’ve read lately, and it shines all the more because of this distinction. It’s a wonderful tale, wonderfully told, and I was particularly taken with Emezi’s writing, which is lyrical and visceral — veritably virtuosic. Theirs is a language that feels intrinsically organic, and it boasts some seriously beautiful, bustling phraseology and wordplay. An overwhelming read, in the best possible way.