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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Pet by akwaeke emezi

Do monsters exist? Jam’s mom, Bitter, convinces her no such things live, particularly following the revolution from long ago, now life is peaceful and safe in the Utopian city of Lucille.
When Jam goes into her mom’s art studio with and accidentally cuts her hand on her mother’s razor blade saturated canvas, a few drops of blood is all that is needed to bring a monster to life. Part goat, part ram, multicolored metal winged, blind mind reading creature, asks to be called, Pet.

From there, Jam and Pet try to uncover the evil that lurks in Lucille, and once the truth eventually is revealed, it reshapes a hidden secret that gives cessation to Pet’s existence. Jam’s relationship with her family is stable and loving, and her bond with her best friend Redemption is charming.

What began as a very original and compelling adventure did not deliver as a cohesive narrative. This story had too many plots lacking direction. One account surrounding the revolution in Lucille’s past. The second centers around the origins of the Pet creature, which is engaging. Third, the abuse of the seven-year-old brother of Redemption by his Uncle, Hibiscus, is revealed and handled rather abruptly. By the end of the story, Hibiscus is laced with a blinding gaseous truth potion to admit his abuse on his nephew. Pet was selected a the National Book Award Young Peoples’s shortlist. Does this meet the criteria of a Newbery worthy book? Let us know.

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Annisha Jeffries About Annisha Jeffries

Annisha Jeffries is the head of the youth services department at Cleveland Public Library. She was a member of the 2007 ALSC Board and served on several selection committees, including the 2018 Caldecott Committee. A 2000-2001 Spectrum Scholarship recipient, Jeffries is currently the Chair of the Norman A, Sugarman Children's Biography Award.
She can be reached at annishamj@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Julie Corsaro says:

    For me, this literary book begs the question of audience. It is written in a spare, poetic style and is short in length by today’s standards. It also has a fabulous shiny, pink cover (see the opening post). It may be playing with gender conventions, but kids picking it up and expecting a rainbows and unicorns read are in for a shock. The story also has a large dose of interior monologue; at the same time, I struggled with knowing whether the once/current selectively mute protagonist Jam was speaking or signing (though I did like her family’s African diaspora infused chatter). I thought the story was well-structured with an opening chapter that provides background on their utopian community and reveals that Jam is transgendered (and accepted); a pivotal middle chapter, which lines up the suspects; and a more traditional build up towards a climax (however brutal) and resolution with more action than earlier in the book. While it’s hard to categorize, the story — like many a dystopia — has an emphasis on the importance of memory, as well as the primacy of perception. It also begs discussion.

  2. First of all, I think PET sings in areas other than plot, and deserves discussion at the Newbery table for those aspects. E.g. characters like Jam and Redemption, rich language drawing on the African diaspora, illuminated setting/worldbuilding–can’t you just picture the library, smell Redemption’s house, and listen to Jam’s house?
    I’d also like to challenge the idea that PET had “too many plots lacking direction,” as Annisha wrote. To my understanding, the different plot points were interlocked and necessary to each other. Pet had to arrive because Hibiscus hurt a child *and* because, due to Lucille’s unique past and Hibiscus’s role in that past, Hibiscus had become above suspicion. The complexity is all braided together. At some other times in Lucille’s history, Pet wouldn’t have been invisible—or wouldn’t have been necessary.
    I see this as part of one of the book’s major themes: renewal. There is no utopia, no friendship, no human being that will be perfect and conflict-free for all time. We will break ourselves and each other. But there are ways that we can come back together if we are willing to face the truth.

  3. I was extremely excited by the prospect of reading PET, especially after seeing some enthusiastic reviews of those I trust and also that it is potentially a good Middle Grade book on the NBA’s short list. And for about 1/3 of the book, I remained extremely thrilled. Although I do not believe this is a middle grade novel — because the sentence level writing is quite sophisticated and very subtle (in a most positive manner) that relies on much inferencing and high level comprehension abilities to truly appreciate, I do think it falls squarely within the Newbery age criteria. A strong 12/13 year old reader would find the writing delicious. The book falls short for me when the plot suddenly focuses on an extremely local/one-household scenario after a promise (by the way the author writes about the world) of a potentially fully developed new society and a global or at least larger community lens. Once I realized that instead of a fully realized fantasy landscape, I would just be following a singular and small plot thread to deal with one monster and aside from encountering PET and its magical powers (conveniently appropriate for whichever situations that need whichever powers: telepathy, invisibility, teleportation, etc.) I, as the reader, knows nothing of the rest of the magical system.

    So, in the end, this is a Public Service Announcement, warning against hidden evils that could be lurking in anyone’s home (what an ominous and upsetting message for young readers), using Fantasy tropes as tools. I am aware of my bias of a fantasy reader – the best Fantasy, in my view, is one that does not read like a “lesson” but contains multitudes of life lessons and revelations that could be peeled and relished in many layers. If a book is presented as fantasy/magical realism, it cannot be distinguished unless it does the above. And PET, unfortunately, does not deliver.

  4. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    Just finished PET and find myself seeing everyone’s point…but still not sure. I agree with Roxanne that this falls short as a fantasy, but I’m not sure that’s the author’s intent. It’s almost like a parable, where Lucille exists more as an idealized setting for the direct purpose of exploring ideas about the dangers of assuming evil is gone just because you don’t see it. I think having just one household and one monster does make sense: catching Hibiscus and making his crime public did lead to the people of Lucille to more self-awareness. And Fan’s insistence that they pursue that direction, instead of straight revenge, was key, especially since Pet and Redemption were so ready to go the other way. But if it’s a parable, it’s a long one, requiring readers to approach as if it is a fully developed fantasy world. As the messages become more prominent and Pet becomes less of a creature and more of a mouthpiece, I think readers’ engagement lessens.

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