When I picked up the novel Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, published in 2019, for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the novel in general – especially the protagonist – since I usually just cannot bring myself to neither sympathize with nor like the protagonist of books, and especially TV shows.
The protagonist of Pet, Jam, is unusually young, but she, and especially the narration, could not have been portrayed more authentically: She is curious, the narration is simple throughout the whole book, and just like I would assume a person so young would narrate events as unusual and horrifying as the ones portrayed in the novel. The easy-to-understand narration Emezi employs is one of the many reasons I immensely enjoyed reading Pet for I didn’t have to read sentences more than once in order to understand their meaning, which can be quite frustrating at times. I find this kind of narration in a book like Pet immensely important as this novel can be categorized as a young adult novel. This means that its intended audience are teenagers, who are more likely interested in, and keep reading, books which are not hard to digest and do not take up too much time.
Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet builds up tension from the very first sentence: “There shouldn’t be any monsters left in Lucille.” (1), which makes it quite clear from the start that there are indeed still monsters left in the city. But the reader cannot possibly know what kind of real-life monster they will encounter at the end of the novel (Spoiler alert!): a man, a family member, who seems quite harmless and, dare I say, unimportant. The monster of the society in Lucille is not the monstrous looking Pet, but someone who does not even remotely look like someone you would consider to be a monster.
Pet shows how dangerous a society that is in denial and refuses to acknowledge what is happening around it can be, and how to proceed in a world where almost everyone but yourself is in denial about the horrors happening in front of their noses. The novel fits eerily well into our “real-life” society’s problems with its own “monsters” since even nowadays, people choose to ignore the horrors they see, instead of trying to fight them. This eerie connection to reality as we know it is even explicitly mentioned on the back of the physical copy of Pet, where it says that the novel “[…] couldn’t be more well timed to our society’s struggles with its own monsters.”
What really struck me as interesting when reading Pet for the first time, are the unusual names of the characters: Jam, Redemption, Moss, Hibiscus, Bitter, Ube, and Aloe. When googling the meaning of these names, I discovered that “Ube” means “little dad” (“Quaranic names”) or “father” (“Quaranic names”). I was very curious about the name “Jam” just because of the instant (and admittedly quite weird) connection I drew to marmalade. But after I finished the book and googled the name “Jam”, I discovered that it is “primarily a gender-neutral name of American origin” (“BabyNames.com”), and completely understood why this book was chosen for our course “Queer and Transcultural Young Adult Literature”, and why the protagonist, who is a 15-year-old black trans girl, was given this particular name. And not only Jam’s name is “gender-neutral” (“BabyNames.com”); “Aloe”, the name of Jam’s father, is also a name which is not singularly reserved for only one gender (“babycenter”), which further justifies this novel being chosen for the course.
But not only the protagonist of the novel is very likeable – like I mentioned at the very beginning of this blog entry -; almost every character in Pet is pleasant, e.g. her parents (most of the time), Redemption, and even Pet. This only adds to this novel being an easy and enjoyable read since I personally find it very hard and quite annoying reading a book in which I do not like most of the characters.
It really warmed my heart that Jam’s parents are so understanding and accepting of her being who she is, and that they are not trying to change her in any way. Especially the scene at the very beginning of the novel Pet, when Jam is telling her father that “she want[s] surgery” (17) and he does not even question it (17), was quite heartwarming and just the perfect example for how parents should react in a situation like this.
Considering all these mentioned aspects, the novel Pet by Akwaeke Emezi is an immensely recommendable read, which tackles society’s struggles in a completely new and different way than I have ever seen before. The likeable characters and the easy language add to this book being a quite easy and quick read; even though some of the topics of Pet are dark and connect eerily well to society as we know it nowadays.
Emezi, Akwaeke. Pet. Faber & Faber Limited, 2019.
„BabyNames.com. The Authority for Name Information Since 1996.” Moss Gathering LLC – Las Vegas, NV – NEW, Jam: Name Meaning, Popularity and Info on BabyNames.com. Accessed 2 January 2022.
“Quaranic names. Authentic Islamic Baby Names.” https://quranicnames.com/ube/. Accessed 2 January 2022.
“babycenter.” BabyCenter, LLC. 1997-2022, https://www.babycenter.com/baby-names-aloe-1649950.htm. Accessed 3 January 2022.