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Welcome to the first edition of the Read This Book! This is a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, back list titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!
This week’s Read This Book recommendation is Pet by Akwaeke Emezi.
(Content warnings: child abuse)
“Angels can look like many things. So can monsters.”
Welcome to Lucille, where there are no more monsters. Jam and her best friend Redemption grew up hearing about how the angels got rid of the monsters before they were born, so they can live in a safe, accepting, diverse society. Lucille lives by the words written by the poet Gwendolyn Brooks (from her poem “Paul Robeson”):
“…we are each other’s
we are each other’s
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.”
In many ways, Lucille is a true utopia: Jam is a selectively mute trans teen girl who has always found love and acceptance, even from a young age. Her best friend Redemption’s family includes three parents, one who uses they/them pronouns. Life is happy, and monsters are a thing of the past, something Jam wonders about but does not fear. But one day, Jam’s mother paints a monstrous creature and when Jam accidentally spills her blood on the artwork, the creature comes to life. Its name is Pet, and it tells Jam that there is a monster in Lucille that they must hunt.
Jam is understandably confused, and reluctant to help—especially when Pet reveals that the monster is lurking in Redemption’s house. To Jam and Redemption’s understanding, monsters are the billionaires who destroyed the environment, the crooked police who abused their power, the criminals who took advantage of the weak. None of those things exist in Redemption’s house. But as much as she doesn’t want to believe Pet, and as painful as it is to tell Redemption about Pet and the existence of the monster, Pet doesn’t let Jam shirk this duty. Even when Jam’s parents would turn a blind eye, Pet makes it clear that Jam and Redemption must hunt this monster. The monster must be dealt with, and quickly.
Pet is a slim, strange novel that feels deceptively simple when you first begin reading. It feels like a light fable, but with each paragraph Emezi is skillfully building a highly suspenseful story about the monsters that can lurk in plain sight, and the obligation that we have to look out for others–especially the most vulnerable. With lyrical writing, they also paint an alluring and intriguing world that is inclusive and accepting in an unfussy way. People in Lucille exist on a spectrum of gender, sexuality, ability, and mobility, and all of these differences are acknowledged and included. Pet is a book that will make you think, make you gasp, and keep you on the edge of your (metaphorical) seat. I believe adults will be utterly absorbed, but it’s also an excellent novel for teens and upper middle grade readers (the book’s target audience) to talk about community, abuse, and how appearances can be deceiving. I believe this book is, at its core, about the dangers of not recognizing a monster (or evil) when you see it, and the imperative we have to look upon our world with clear eyes, open hearts, and say, “We are each other’s harvest, we are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
It’s no wonder that Pet was a National Book Award finalist for 2019—this book pulls no punches. Emezi knows exactly when to pull away and when to get in close, no matter how much throwing the light on a monster may scare you. And even though Pet didn’t take the award, you simply must read this book.
Bonus: Pet makes an excellent audiobook! It’s narrated by Christopher Myers, founder of Pet’s publisher, the imprint Make Me a World (a division of Random House). Myers brings energy, compassion, and an urgency to this book that is deeply compelling.
Happy reading, book nerds! See you next week.