Mini-Reviews: Pet, Symptoms of Being Human, and With the Fire on High

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Pet is here to hunt a monster.
Are you brave enough to look?

There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question-How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

I’m not sure the last time I finished a book feeling so confused as when finishing Pet, but at least I knew that I liked it. The thing about this book is that the writing style feels very middle grade, but the subject matter is very much not.

My favorite thing about this book was the representation. Jam is a trans black girl, and it’s not the focus of the story or really relevant to the plot in any way, it’s just who Jam is. I think this is the best kind of representation to have.

The book has an important, if maybe heavy-handed message, that just because we don’t expect people to be evil doesn’t mean that they’re not. In Jam’s world, evil has supposedly been eradicated, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not lurking where we’d least expect it. Her journey, along with her best friend Redemption and the monstrous-looking (but not actually monstrous) Pet, to find out what’s been going on with someone they both care about, is absolutely heartbreaking.

In the end, I would recommend this book as long as you’re okay with the fairly obvious way the message is delivered.

Content warnings
  • child abuse/molestation
  • fairly graphic vigilante justice
  • (accidental) self harm with razor blades

#wian20: 4 letters or less


Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source: Borrowed

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

We’re all taught from a young age that there are only two choices: pink or blue, Bratz or Power Rangers, cheerleading or football. We see gender in two dimensions because that’s what society has taught us from birth. But, are you ready for a shocking revelation? SOCIETY NEEDS TO CHANGE.

I’d had Symptoms of Being Human on my TBR for a while, but I still went in with no expectations. The reviews are pretty mixed, with most people agreeing that it has great genderqueer representation but very little plot. I guess I can see that.

The story revolves around Riley, who identifies as genderqueer. Riley’s parents don’t really understand. Riley’s classmates don’t really understand. So Riley starts a blog and finds some people to talk to about life. That’s really about it, and I’ll agree that it’s not much of a plot to go on, but it did hold my interest.

I will say that this book made me angry, though. I don’t have any children, but I hope to never make my future child feel like they’re not good enough the way they are, like they have to stuff themselves into a suffocating box to make me happy. I hope it made other people angry too.

Overall, I think the characters really carry the story here, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.


With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Source: Borrowed

With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free. 

After really loving The Poet X, I decided to give another of Acevedo’s books a try and read With the Fire on High. I didn’t love it quite as much but it was still really, really good.

I loved Emoni. She was such a strong character and she was truly just trying to do her best with the circumstances in her life. I loved the relationship she had with her abuela. I loved her cooking and just wish that I could taste some of those recipes! There’s even a little touch of magical realism, which I thought was great.

As for why four stars and not five, I felt like, though the overall writing was very good, it did have some awkward parts. (I rolled my eyes every time Emoni let out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding.) I also didn’t understand what purpose there was to all of the drama with Pretty Leslie, though it does get resolved nicely in the end.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. But if you have to pick one of Acevedo’s books to start with, I’d recommend The Poet X.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews: Pet, Symptoms of Being Human, and With the Fire on High

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