Pet takes place in the utopian city of Lucille. They’ve rooted out all the evil at their core: the violent policemen, the corrupt politicians, the liars and abusers… It wasn’t easy, and those who had to hunt for the evil in their midst had to do terrible things, but now there are no monsters in Lucille. Jam has been raised in this world, and is shocked when a spatter of her blood combines with a painting made by her mother and calls forth a monster which calls itself Pet and says there is a monster in Lucille, in the home of her dearest friend. Worse, it says she has to help it hunt down that monster.
It’s hard to put a finger on quite where Pet sits, though it’s labelled as YA: Jam feels rather young, despite the fact that she’s older than fifteen. I suspect that’s partly because of her naïveté, though. I don’t know how old I was when I first understood that children around me were being abused by family members, but I can’t have been more than ten. The idea of children being able to be that naïve is a pretty shocking one from that perspective: of course they wouldn’t have to grow up as fast. Of course they could have space to figure out their way through their lives.
So despite how young it feels in that way, YA is probably fair — especially because of the things Jam discovers while she’s on the hunt with Pet.
I really enjoyed the different kinds of representation here: there’s a family with three parents, one of whom is non-binary; Jam is trans; Jam prefers not to vocalise and uses signs and alternative ways to communicate; race feels unimportant to the world but is clearly signalled to the reader (with Jam’s afro, learning to do her hair in cornrows, etc — not to mention the cover)…
And as for the story… It feels simplistic, but there’s a lot of stuff to untangle. I enjoyed Jam’s friendship with Redemption, and the easy way they help each other, make each other better, and figure out their way around their problems. The relationships between Bitter and Aloe, Jam’s parents, and within Redemption’s family as well, have that feel to it as well. A world where people communicate and figure things out — and yes, are awful to each other sometimes, but figure things out as well. And there’s the whole issue of the monsters in Lucille, which people don’t want to see: we’ve done the work, they say. The work’s been done, there are no monsters.
There are always monsters, and we can’t pretend we’ve got rid of them for good, no matter how righteous we are, no matter how we purge and purge. We always have to be ready to listen, to accept that we could have been wrong.
Pet does a lot in a very short space, and it’s very worth a read at this particular moment in time especially. It has the simplicity of a fable or a parable, but within that simplicity is a hell of an idea to have to wrestle with.