Bitter by Akwaeke Emezie is the prequel to Pet, a dystopian (utopian?) YA novel that follows a mute transgender girl named Jam who discovers that her utopian city isn’t as perfect as she was lead to believe. Bitter follows Jam’s mother, Bitter, when she was a teen and shows us how the world came to be as it was in Pet.
This book doesn’t have to be read after Pet, but I personally think that’s the better choice as we meet some of the adults in Pet as children in Bitter.
I really enjoyed how this novel tackled the trauma of dealing with racism, and how activism and rallies and marching aren’t an option for everyone. But how those people are still valid in each and every way they help. I also adored Bitter’s friends, they’re such supportive people and although they’re human and they make mistakes they always come through in the end.
This book is darker than Pet. Pet reads as young YA or older Middle Grade. Bitter, however, is firmly within the YA bracket. There’s a fair amount of violence depicted, as well as the way that topics are discussed being more in depth. Something to be aware of going in, especially if giving this book to a younger reader.
The monsters present in this book are a little darker than in Pet, but I still enjoy how they are used to demonstrate how certain people and groups react. They’re an exaggeration (mostly) but show the possible consequences and how things can go too far. But also how going too far sometimes is the only option. Emezie is able to use them to add this nuance into the narrative without distracting from the intended message by introducing complex human choices into the mix.
On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 9, Writing: 8, Plot: 8, Intrigue: 8, Logic: 8, and Enjoyment: 8 for an average of 8.14 and a 4.5* rating.
Highlight here for content warnings: police brutality, violence, death, blood, panic attacks, self harm, gun violence, murder, war, racism, child abuse, death of parent, abandonment, classism, ableism, mental illness, emotional abuse, homophobia, bullying, medical trauma, lesbophobia.
This is a really fantastic prequel. It tells us a lot more about the history of the characters and the political and personal climate around them, whilst still remaining very close to the individual characters and their stories. If you’ve read and enjoyed Pet then this is a worthwhile novella that you’ll be so glad you picked up.
Have you read this or Pet? Did you love them too? Let me know!