[Monday Reading] The Horror in Akwaeke Emezi’s Stories


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). 

Here is our October – December 2021 reading theme:

Horror and Deliverance In Books

We are on the look-out for books that fit the following deliberately-nebulous criteria:

  1. horror and scary stories
  2. everyday horrors that human beings face and conquer
  3. monsters and monstrosity
  4. stories that provide deliverance and redemption
  5. tales that show both darkness and light

I have been a fan of Emezi since I read and reviewed her Freshwater (Amazon | Book Depository) here. These two stories written by Emezi feature both supernatural and everyday horrors encountered by people of color in their daily lives. They are disturbing, haunting, and eerily unforgettable.

Pet [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Akwaeke Emezi
Published by Make Me A World (2019) ISBN: 9780525647072 (ISBN10: 0525647074). Literary Awards: National Book Award Nominee, Young People’s Literature (2019)Locus Award Nominee, Best Young Adult Book (2020)Carl Brandon Parallax Award (2019)National Book Award Finalist Nominee, Young People’s Literature (2019)IGNYTE Award Nominee, Best Novel – YA (2020)Otherwise Award Nominee (2019)Stonewall Honor Book (2020). Bought a copy of the book. 

I read this middle grade novel during the first quarter of the year (towards the end of January until early February). I deliberately suspended my review until we got to this quarterly reading theme on horror and deliverance – which I am not sure now is a wise thing to do, as there are a few details in the narrative that now escape me.

Regardless, what I remember to have stood out for me, most of all, was how the nature of monsters or monstrosity or evil had been so subtly reframed or redefined. This was very cleverly done, given how this is packaged as a middle grade novel.

I also recall the remarkable restraint in the writing, the sense of foreboding, the foreshadowing of ominous and sinister things to come – such that when the ending came, it felt anticlimactic to me, because the build-up was so incredible that the banality of the horror towards the end felt perfectly ordinary – notwithstanding its heinous nature. I surmised that Emezi may have felt ‘held back’ to some degree as they were writing for a younger audience. That being said, I felt the horrifying nature of Pet so keenly, with the clear acknowledgment that Pet is neither angel nor devil, good or evil – it simply is, as are most things in life.

The Death Of Vivek Oji [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Akwaeke Emezi
Published by Riverhead Books (2020). Literary Awards: Orwell Prize Nominee, Political Fiction for Longlist (2021)Los Angeles Times Book Prize Nominee, Fiction (2020)Dylan Thomas Prize Nominee, Shortlist (2021)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee, Fiction (2020)Stonewall Honor Book (2021)
ISBN: 9780525541608 (ISBN10: 0525541608) Bought a copy of the book.

The Death of Vivek Oji is not really categorized as horror or suspense – but there is death here, potentially violent, secrets, an unraveling of identity, an unpacking of missed intentions and realizations – not to mention solidarities among outsiders. I was especially struck by the mention of a Filipina-Nigerian girl who is also struggling with her own intersecting identities.

At its very essence, the story surfaces how Vivek Oji’s coming into himself-herself had been riddled with societal rejection, religious prejudice, and sanctimonious appropriations of the strange, the foreign, the long-hair, the subtle femininity of what-should-have-been-traditionally-masculine-but-isn’t-therefore-to-be-corrected-at-all-costs.

I was moved by Vivek Oji’s grace – not just physically, but one that is drawn from a tortured spirit that is confined by a society that does not understand it and wishes to curb the flourishing of its beauty and being. Unlike the other Emezi novels that I have read, though, I felt that there were was more of a meandering aspect to this tale that I don’t think worked for me all that well. Regardless, I still found the unfolding of the narrative to be riveting, and I would probably read anything that Emezi writes.

#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 110-111 out of target 100

December 6, 2021 at 06:31AM Myra Garces-Bacsal