It’s hard to build a new world without making people angry.

Akwaeke Emezi went from being an acclaimed debut author to publishing their third book in the span of years. Pet is their second book, and their first foray into YA literature; it was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award.

Talking Points

If you’re not sure where to start a conversation in a breakout room during Book Club, find an example in the text related to one of these themes. Or, pick a passage that stood out to you and share it with the group.

  • Big themes, questions and ideas for young readers – something the book argues for in its own plot, hinging on secrets that are easier to leave hidden than confront
  • Revolution and its aftermaths – what is justice?
  • Religion and mythology
  • Family, love and protectiveness
  • “Forgetting is dangerous. Forgetting is how the monsters come back.”(20)

Get Into It

Teen Vogue

Akwaeke Emezi on "Pet"

“This is the kind of future where she can be loved by someone who, perhaps, in a worse and different life, would have tried to hurt her.”

Kirkus Review

Review: Pet

This soaring novel shoots for the stars and explodes the sky with its bold brilliance.

Close Readings

The mayor used to be a monster. Lucille has a different mayor now. This mayor is an angel; the last couple of mayors have all been angles. Not like a from-heaven, not-quite-real type of angel but a from-behind-and-inside-and-in-front-of-the-revolution, therefore-very-real type of angel. (1)

It’s hard to build a new world without making people angry. You try your best, you move with compassion, you think about the big structures. No revolution is perfect. (1-2)

Jam was born after the monsters, born and raised in Lucille, but like everyone else, she remembered. It was taught in school: how the monsters had maintained power for such a long time; how the angels had removed them, making Lucille what it is today… the teachers wanted the kids to want to be angels, you see? Angels could change the world. (3)

Bitter knew her name was heavy, but she hadn’t minded, because it was honest. That was something she’d taught Jam – that a lot of things were manageable as long as they were honest. You could see things clearly if they were honest; you could decide what to do next, because you knew exactly what you were dealing with. She never lied to Jam, always told her the truth, even if sometimes she couldn’t make it as gentle as she would’ve wanted, for her daughter’s sake. (7-8)

“It is not easy to get rid of monsters… The angels, they had to do things underhand, dark things… Good and innocent, they not the same thing; they don’t wear the same face.” (13)

“It’s good to think about the angels like so,” [Bitter] said. “Critically, yes? Can’t believe everything everyone tells you, even in school. But remember, is Lucille angels that organized we. And what did we learn from that?” Bitter squeezed Jam’s hands. “Tell it to me.” … Jam sighed and freed her hands from her mother’s so she could say the words, lifted from an old Gwendolyn Brooks poem, words the angels had used when they gave Lucille back to itself. A revolution cry. We are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond. (13-14)

The problem is, when you think you’ve been without monsters for so long, sometimes you forget what they look like, what they sound like, no matter how much remembering your education urges you to do. It’s not the same when the monsters are gone. You’re only remembering shadows of them, stories that seem to be limited to the pages or screens you read them from. Flat and dull things. So, yes, people forget. But forgetting is dangerous. Forgetting is how the monsters come back. (20)

Everyone, everything deserved some time to be. To figure out what they were. Even a painting. (22-23)

Not one of my concerns in life, to be nice, to sound nice, what is nice… Unpleasant things must be done for unpleasant purposes out of unpleasant necessity. (39-40)

Whenever she was really scared or freakng out, the same thing always happened: she began to dissociate, reality loosening around her like a hammock deconstructing itself, spilling her out into sands of nothingness. (45)

Of course there were still monsters, Jam thought. Could you really make something stop existing just by shoving it away somewhere else? (50)

“We’re both alive when we fight. We’re magnificent; we’re testing our aliveness against each other. How fast is your alive? How smooth is your alive? How hard, how resilient?” (57)

What you were called and what your name was were not the same thing. (64)

If you do not know there are things you do not see… then you will not see them because you do not expect them to be there. You think you see everything, so you think everything you see is all there is to be seen. (71-72)

The revolution had been slow and ponderous, but it had weight, and that weight built up a momentum, and when that momentum finally broke forth, it was with a great and accumulated force. (78)

The monsters always tried to apologize when they were caught, using the same slippery words that had worked for them before. They thought it would be enough, that some time would pass and they would be welcomed back as if nothing had happened. They were wrong. There was no twisting away from the repercussions that the angels brought, justice rising like a sun over the hill in a loud morning. (79)

Listen to me, little girl, it said. You want many things, you are full of want, carved out of it, made from it, yes. But the truth does not care about what you want; the truth is what it is. It is not moved by want, it is not a blade of grass to be bent by the wind of your hopes and desires… The truth does not change whether it is seen or unseen… A thing that is happening happens whether you look at it or not. (95)

“Ain’t no grown-up in the whole of Lucille grown enough to tell you you don’t deserve answers to your questions.” (130)

You’re so limited… You’re only thinking about this one, this child, this monster… What about the other children? What about the things we could do to weed out harm before it’s done to them? (187)