“Forgetting is how the monsters come back”.
Today, for what will be our last ever column from Kirkus, I would like to talk about an upcoming book that is a little bit weird, a little discomfiting and a whole lot wondrous.
Award-winning author Akwaeke Emezi’s first YA novel, Pet, gives us a utopic world in which revolutionary “angels” have eradicated “monsters” from a little town called Lucille. In Lucille, there is no longer any form of bigotry, violence or abuse – all the systemic problems have been overturned by its heroes, their entire society restructured. Jam – a trans girl who chooses when to use her voice out loud - and her best friend Redemption were born into this beautiful, peaceful, problem-free world. They are continuously told that there are no more monsters left in Lucille.
Then one day, something completely unexpected happens after Jam accidentally drops some blood into one of her mother’s paintings. A creature of horns, metallic feathers, fur and fear who calls itself Pet and who answers only to Jam, emerges from the painting, crossing from another world with a hunting mission and a dire message:
There is still one monster in Lucille and it lives in Redemption’s house.
With a strong sense of place and deft characterization, Pet manages to be at once a novel of the power of hope and of change but also the wrongness that can survive in the shadows of denial and silence. Lucille’s progress is a thing of beauty with its openness and its lack of bigotry. There are wonderful scenes here including Jam’s memory of when her family realized she was a trans girl with not only their utter acceptance but also the easiness in terms of technology advances in hormone therapy and surgery to help her.
But there is always a dark side to utopian societies: when elders don’t listen to the young. When history and tradition become more important than the present. It’s when we look around us and we sprout words such as “we don’t need feminism anymore” or “we live in a post-racial word”, or “fascism will not rear its ugly face ever again”. Because it doesn’t matter how much stride we have made, we must remain vigilant, we must understand that people often forget. And in the forgetfulness, monsters rise again. But even if you don’t forget: “a memory is not the same as a now”. So, you have to listen and believe.
Beyond these larger than life questions that are examined here, this is also a beautiful novel about that moment when a child finds that her own, internal world can be a whole separate thing from that of her parents. There is a moment when they are a family of three and then a moment when Jam separates herself to pursue what she believes to be truth and that is a painful and yet necessary moment. I loved many things about the novel, but this, I loved the most.
This book reminded me a lot of Dia Reeves’ books especially when it comes to the portrayal of Lucille and its inhabitants. If you are a fan Reeves by all means, give this one a shot (and vice-versa).
And for the last time….
In booksmugglerish: 9 out of 10