Jam lives a fairly charmed life. She is loved and protected by her parents, and she lives in a town that has long since expelled all the monsters that once plagued the nation. Public monsters who used their authority to oppress people, family monsters who made homes unsafe through addiction and abuse—all these monsters are history in the town of Lucille. Angels purged the monsters, and destroyed the old systems of government to make way for more just and safe ways of living. Jam knows that many in her parents’ generation are uncomfortable with discussion of angels and monsters alike, simply saying that the angels had to do difficult things. But she feels safe…until the night that a terrifying creature climbs out of her mother’s new painting. This creature, Pet, announces that it has come to hunt a monster, and it requires Jam’s help. Worse, Pet insists that the monster is in the house of Jam’s best friend Redemption. Jam knows that Pet must be mistaken. But how can she leave her friend in danger? And what will Pet require her and her friend to do?
Pet is not the kind of fantasy novel that offers readers escapist pleasure. It is the kind of thoughtful, compelling fantasy that offers readers a kind of heightened realism. Lucille is convincingly idyllic in many ways. Jam is a trans girl who chooses to speak to very few people and prefers to sign the rest of the time. Yet while she notes that her father is perhaps more protective of her than he might be otherwise, she is never medicalized with a diagnosis of selective mutism, but simply allowed to live as she feels comfortable. Jam’s transition from innocent curiosity about the historical past to terror of the present is convincing. Pet’s appearance and behavior range from uncanny to downright terrifying, but Pet is not the chief source of fear; Jam’s struggles with the horrors of ordinary human behavior carry the emotional weight of the novel. At times, Emezi’s world-building falters—they are a bit vague about how the governmental problems of Lucille were solved—but this is a minor issue. Pet is a truly innovative novel that will stay with readers long after they finish it.
Naomi Lesley ©2019 Parents’ Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.