Book review · Young adult

Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

38612739Pet is a story about how evil – any kind of evil – thrives in plain sight when people start refusing to look for it, to acknowledge that it can and does exist. It’s a story about how this refusal of any kind of discomfort, this hiding from the world’s truth, hurts and silences victims.

It follows Jam, a black trans girl with selective mutism who lives in Lucille, a town in a future version of America that would look like an utopia to us. Not only the people around Jam accept all of her as she is, Lucille as a whole doesn’t have “monsters” anymore: no police to fear, no hoarding billionaries or evil politicians or backstabbing bigots. Evil has been defeated, people say, but as Jam soon discovers, that’s never really the case.

This is a charming little book. It’s so short, but it has so much to say, with this world balanced between surreal and futuristic, in which creatures can come through paintings and monsters are still so familiar. It’s not contemporary, but it’s that kind of book that feels more real than reality, and one I would recommend to readers of all ages. I think that it’s technically a much-needed lower YA, as the main character is 15, but it’s accessible even to younger readers, and adults could get a lot out of it as well. From what Petsays about the nature of evil to what it says about what makes a monster, or an angel – not the appearance, not what they are, but what they do – there are a lot of important messages and reminders in this book.

I think it’s really interesting how, in an age range that is supposedly geared towards teenagers (so, from 13 to 19, and even then, people will tell you that it’s technically meant to be 14-17), characters that are younger than 16 are so uncommon in YA. I think this is one of the reasons this book felt so unlike every YA novel I had ever read before – Jam is a 15-year-old girl who actually feels like one, and Pet talks about the typical difficulties of being a young teen in the world: Jam doesn’t know how to communicate with her parents anymore, she’s slowly realizing that the world is uglier than she has believed for all her life, and is terrified that people won’t listen to her just because of her age. I remember experiencing all of these things myself, and it’s sad that the YA age range usually avoids dealing with these topics to favor storylines that are more appealing to adults instead.

Pet also focuses a lot on family dynamics, both in Jam’s own family – Jam’s relationships with her parents, Bitter and Aloe, is really developed, which is also uncommon in YA – and in her friend Redemption’s, in which Jam has been told “hides a monster”. I loved the portrayal of Redemption’s family, it’s so uncommon to see extended families and polyamory representation (Redemption’s parents are a woman, a non-binary person, and a man, but aunts and uncles are almost like parents to him too) in books, but even families that look perfect can have their ugly sides. And this is still a story with a happy ending, the best possible ending given the circumstances. Just because it has an important message, it doesn’t mean it has to be constantly painful.

And then there’s the relationship between Jam and Pet, the creature that came through Jam’s mother’s paining. I loved what this book did with Pet, especially what Pet meant to Jam – their complicated friendship, their disagreements abou how to pursue justice, and how Pet taught Jam to be brave and that sometimes discomfort is a positive thing.

I hope Pet ends up reaching a lot of people; I think most could get something useful from this.

My rating: ★★★★★

Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

WANT + RUSE by Cindy Pon: Spoiler-Free Series Review

Today, I’m reviewing the two books in the Want duology by Cindy Pon, which follows a group of Asian teenagers in a near-future, very polluted world as they try to make the situation better. It’s mainly about class privilege and environmentalism.

There won’t be any spoilers for either books.


32333174Want is one of the best YA dystopians ever published.
I tend not to like dystopians. Some of them don’t work because they’re thinly-disguised romances in which the “dystopian” part doesn’t make any sense, and most of them aren’t that interesting to read because the setting is always a terribly bland future version of the USA.

Not in this book, and I don’t mean that just because it’s set in Taipei. Want is a story that portrays hope in a ruined world not only through the plot, but also through the setting. For a story set in a polluted city, it’s very atmospheric, and there are so many beautiful descriptions – not only of the extravagant sci-fi technology, but also of the night markets, of the food, of the ways humans try to change their appearance when they can do nothing to change how sick the world looks around them. It also shows this future Taipei as a city of contradictions, the rich and the extremely poor, the old temples side-by-side with sci-fi skyscrapers. The setting is as developed as the characters, and like them, it has its own charm.

Let’s talk about the characters, then. This is the story of Jason Zhou and his group of friends, who managed to bring down an evil corporation by kidnapping an heiress and infiltrating the rich. They’re hackers and thieves and they’re trying to do the right thing in a world in which injustice is everywhere. I really liked reading about Jason – he’s the kind of character who really feels like a teenage boy but doesn’t end up being insufferable (and he also throws knives, which I appreciate).
My other two favorite characters were:
🎭 Lingyi, the bisexual hacker who is amazing and in a relationship with Iris, a mysterious acrobat;
🎭 Daiyu. She’s the best character in this book, and when I read it for the first time (in 2017) my reaction was “why can’t I marry her right now”. She’s smart, she’s competent, she’s beautiful, she’s aware she’s privileged and actually does something about it.

Another thing I really appreciated about this book are the themes. It’s a story about environmentalism and anti-capitalism, and it doesn’t shy away from showing how messed up the situation can get. And the thing is, I can see some parts of this book happening, and in a not-so-far future. Want feels both relevant and realistic, like a good dystopian should.

This book isn’t perfect. Sometimes the story got lost in paragraphs of exposition, and because many of the characters already knew each other, we’re told about their friendships and relationships instead of shown, so they didn’t feel as real as they could have.
Also, the literature references got a bit cheesy, but I didn’t mind that too much. I love cheesy sometimes, just as much as I love decadent – is it weird that part of the appeal of this book is reading the descriptions of the parties thrown by the corrupt rich people? There’s so much beauty in here, and I love when beauty is just a layer covering the rot.

My rating: ★★★★½


35274032I didn’t love Ruse as much as I loved Want. I do think it is a solid sequel, and worth reading if you liked the first book, but the combination of my expectations and this book just not being as compelling and well-paced as the first one was led me to enjoy it less.

Let’s talk about expectations: I believed Lingyi would be the main narrator of this book. She’s not; most of the novel is still narrated by Jason Zhou, and while Lingyi is slightly more prominent and has a few chapters in her PoV, she still doesn’t get much development or more depth that she had in the first book.
While I love Zhou, I expected this book to be different, to get more into Lingyi and Iris’ history, and their relationship. It doesn’t.

I also thought this book was less thematically strong than the first one. It still talks about class and environmentalism, which I really appreciate, but it does nothing with these messages that the first book didn’t already do more effectively. The descriptions of the excesses of the rich and the poverty felt far more vivid in the first book.
The pacing was also uneven, which made some of the flaws already present in Want stand out even more, like the lack of character development (the only character who actually gets an arc is Daiyu. Who is of course the best character in the book and we don’t deserve her).

However, I still really enjoyed reading this! I loved reading about this diverse group of teenagers trying their best to take down an evil rich man. They doubt each other and mess up and feel guilty for not being able to do more in a world that is so unjust, but… I admire all of them a lot.
Also, the novel was still very atmospheric (it’s set in Shanghai instead of Taipei this time and I really liked seeing this new place from Lingyi and Zhou’s eyes), and it has the kind of food descriptions that will make you hungry.

My rating: ★★★½


Overall, I thought this was a really interesting and original series, and it’s one of the few YA dystopians I feel like I can recommend.

What are your favorite dystopians?