When someone experiences a trauma, or is close to someone who does, there can be a shift in worldview. Sometimes our lives are split in two- life before the event and life after. Or it can feel like you are living in one world, where the trauma remains, while everyone else carries on in their day to day to lives in another world. Akwaeke Emezi has made these feelings into reality in their book Pet which explores the complexity of ridding the world of injustice.
Jam lives in Lucille, a community where there is no more intolerance or violence (with the exception of boxing). Many years ago, a group of people now called angels had risen up to eliminate the monsters in society. Human monsters that is. People who hurt others are no longer present in Lucille. Jam’s mother is an artist and has been working on a painting with a picture of a frightening being at its center. There are also razor blades embedded in the canvas. One night, Jam goes to look at her mother’s painting and accidentally cuts herself on the blades. When blood drips onto the painting, the figure comes out. With bloody horns and talons, the legs of a goat, feathered arms, and no eyes, this is quite a scary sight. This is how Jam meets Pet. Pet has come to hunt monsters, which is strange because there are no monsters in Lucille. However, Pet insists that a monster can be found within the home of Jam’s best friend Redemption and it needs Jam’s help to find the monster and destroy it.
This is Emezi’s first young adult novel and it is quite the debut. Emezi’s writing is poetic and descriptive in a way that highlights some of the contradictions in the story. Pet is terrifying, yet angelic. Angels are heroes, but they can also be monsters. Pet is almost written as a series of questions to the reader, as if Emezi is daring us to answer: What happens when the world is not as it seems? What makes someone monstrous? Who makes that determination? What happens to the angels and monsters among us?
Young adults are constantly making decisions about who they are and who they want to be. Jam’s world might be that of fantasy, but many of the questions it raises are shared by those living in our own world. This book speaks to every time and place, to all kinds of people, and asks if we are brave enough to see the world as it really is.
Discussion Questions and Ideas
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Diversity 10: I understand that diversity includes the impact of unequal power relations on the development of group identities and cultures.
Action 17: I take responsibility for standing up to exclusion, prejudice and injustice.
RL.2- Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
RL.3- Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
RL.4- Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).