Book Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Genre : YA, Speculative Fiction
Date Published :
September 10, 2019
Publisher : Penguin Random House

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi was hands down my favorite read of 2019! In December, the library where I work held a staff event where we all shared our favorite 2019 books for kids and teens, and my coworker and I pitched Pet as the best book of the year (School Library Journal, NPR, and New York Public Library seem to agree)! If you have yet to read it, I highly suggest you spend the rest of your Sunday afternoon doing so – at only 208 pages, Pet is a quick read, though it packs quite a punch in a short amount of time.

Where to start? I absolutely LOVED Jam – she is so sweet and determined and real. Jam is black, trans, and selectively verbal, and while these parts of her identity are important, she did not face any hardships in the story as a result of her identities. Emezi populates the town of Lucille with an all-black cast of characters who unabashedly support Jam in her transness and learn sign language just for her. I loved that Emezi allows Jam to simply exist as she is and go on a life-changing adventure. That doesn’t happen very often in fiction these days, and it was super refreshing.

I also LOVED Pet as a character. Its emergence from the painting was so weird and beautiful, and really solidified the whole visual tone of the story for me. Lush, bright, and strange. I would pay so much money just to see this moment turned into an animated feature (and, let’s be honest, the entire story deserves to be made into a movie, animated or otherwise).

I think Pet is an essential read for our current political climate. Though Lucille is a “Utopian” society that is much better off than we currently are in terms of equality, the core message of the story is that humans must constantly be vigilant our fight against evil. Even when we think we’ve made it to “Utopia,” there will always be monsters lurking where we least expect them. Emezi also challenges us think about the different weapons we employ in our fight against evil. Violence is sometimes necessary, but so is restraint and forgiveness.

When I have kids, you better believe this book will be on their shelves. In the meantime, I am on a mission to make all of my friends read this quirky, delightful, powerful little book. I can’t wait to see what Emezi has in store for us next with The Death of Vivek Oji (August 4, 2020 from Riverhead Books. Preorder here.)!

-Emory

Book Review: The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza (translated by Suzanne Jill Levine & Aviva Kana)

Genre : Speculative Fiction
Date Published : October 1st, 2018
Publisher : Dorothy

Whew! Summer is winding down and because of the holiday weekend I finally feel like I can breathe a little. The last few months have been fairly chaotic – I started another part-time job, moved houses, visited family, and got a promotion at the library (!!!) all in a very short span of time, and so this year I am very grateful that I don’t work on Labor Day. Because August was so busy, I didn’t have a steady reading schedule (and I’m still slogging through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and…….it is going very, very, very slow), and so this week I’ll be reviewing the book I read for Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club this month at my local indie book store. This post is going to be a little bit about book clubs and a little bit of a review, all mashed into one. Enjoy!

The Taiga Syndrome follows a detective/murder mystery novelist on her journey into the taiga, where she has been sent to find her client’s estranged wife and the wife’s new lover. The taiga is a place of wilderness, magic, and uncertainty, and as the longer the detective remains in the taiga, the more we begin to doubt her sanity. Many strange and inexplicable things happen on our detective’s journey into the wild northern forests – the more truth she uncovers, the weirder things get, and by the end there are more questions than answers. When the book finally came to a close, I was left feeling like I had just read a particularly chilling Grimm’s fairytale.

The overall vibe of this book is very folkloric in nature – it’s very lyrical and poetic, strange and unsettling, and a very quick read (it took me about 2 hours to finish). But Rivera Garza not only captures the feeling of fairytales – she also includes mentions of them throughout the story. The detective ruminates frequently on Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel, tying her experiences with the taiga back to the foreboding forests of these stories. A prominent and recurring image is that of a wolf – this wolf, real or imagined, follows our detective both into and out of the forest, and left me with chills when I finally put the book down!

Overall, The Taiga Syndrome was such an odd and unsettling reading experience (in the best way possible). I was left with SO MANY QUESTIONS and am happy to say that none of them were answered during our book club discussion – in fact, I left our monthly meeting with even MORE QUESTIONS! (The big one being – WHAT THE HECK were those tiny elf creatures?! And were they real?!?). It’s been a while since I’ve felt so challenged and invigorated by a book, and I’m so grateful that Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club is constantly bringing new and strange speculative works like The Taiga Syndrome to my attention.

With my new library promotion (woohoo!!!!) I’m unfortunately going to have to take a mini-break from book club because it won’t fit with my new work schedule. But I am SO GRATEFUL for the amazing people I’ve met and the amazing books I’ve read with Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club this year – and I can’t wait to see what books we read next!

My rating:

9 Unsettling Lumberjacks out of 10

-Emory