Akwaeke Emezi

Book - 2022

"After a childhood in foster care, Bitter is thrilled to have been chosen to attend Eucalyptus, a special school where she can focus on her painting surrounded by other creative teens. But outside this haven, the streets are filled with protests against the deep injustices that grip the city of Lucille. Bitter's instinct is to stay safe within the walls of Eucalyptus but her friends aren't willing to settle for a world that's so far away from what they deserve. Pulled between... old friendships, her artistic passion, and a new romance, Bitter isn't sure where she belongs--in the studio or in the streets. And if she does find a way to help the revolution while being true to who she is, she must also ask: at what cost?"--

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School fiction
New York : Alfred A. Knopf [2022]
First edition
Physical Description
264 pages ; 22 cm
Main Author
Akwaeke Emezi (author)
Review by Booklist Review

This prequel to Emezi's smash-hit debut, Pet (2019), tells the story of Jam's mother, Bitter, who has impossible decisions to make in order to save her city. After a traumatic childhood in foster care, Bitter just wants to find comfort behind the safe walls of Eucalyptus, the school for gifted artists where she now lives. She has no interest in joining the crusade against the city's vile politicians and business leaders or venturing into the outside world after graduation; instead, she's content to paint all day and summon small creatures from her artistic creations. But Bitter is unexpectedly forced to join the clash when one of her magical creatures offers her an opportunity to rid Lucille of political abuse once and for all. Emezi's novel is mesmerizing from start to finish; their character's voices are distinct, and the author continually reminds the reader that it is the children who must assume leadership positions and battle the city--protected corruption that threatens the everyday people. This stirring novel will undoubtedly sit with readers long after the last sentence.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this companion to National Book Award finalist Pet, Emezi introduces Bitter, a Black 17-year-old who attends private boarding art school Eucalyptus in the middle of Lucille, a city that's on the brink of youth-led political change. Surrounded on every side by escalating violence ("Everyone knew someone else who had died from something they didn't have to die from") and protests, Bitter "thought it was ridiculous that adults wanted young people to be the ones saving the world," and stays within Eucalyptus's walls, safe inside the protective bubble of her art. There, she interacts with Miss Virtue, who runs the school; her friend Blessing, who keeps Bitter's hair cut short; and the temporarily animate creatures Bitter creates from her own blood-streaked drawings. When anti-protest brutality results in a life-changing injury for one of her friends, Bitter creates her most fearsome creature yet to seek revenge. Emezi peoples this timely, urgently told first-person story with vivacious queer characters of color who have the agency to define the future for themselves and their city. Simultaneously brave, conscientious, and fearful, Bitter is all the more memorable for her complexity as Emezi illustrates in this steadfast volume the discipline of hope--like art, something to be worked at and practiced again and again. Ages 12--up. Agent: Jackie Ko, The Wylie Agency. (Feb.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up--In this companion to Pet, Emezi once again deftly conjures an ethereal world in which hope is a practice, teen voice and choice are uplifted, and art is validated and lauded as a form of resistance. Before the angels banished the monsters from the city of Lucille, before Pet, before Jam, there was Bitter. Yet this book imagines so much more than the backstories of Bitter (Jam's mother and Pet's creator) and Aloe (Jam's father). This prequel tells the complicated yet sweet story of their fledgling love while intimately dissecting the anatomy of a revolution. After a childhood of bouncing from one foster situation to another, Bitter finally feels safe ensconced within the walls of Eucalyptus, a school for orphaned teen artists. The world outside may be overrun with monsters, rife with inequality, and bubbling over with senseless violence, but she just can't bring herself to leave the safety of her art making to join the protests to save their Lucille. But when her life slowly becomes intertwined with Aloe's and he forces her to make amends with Eddie, one of the Assata (revolutionary) kids, Bitter must consider her role in confronting the realities of their world. Bitter asks the universal question, "Everyone got their own role. What is my place?" VERDICT Readers of Pet will relish this dive back into the origins of Bitter's creative power and come to deeply understand the price paid to ease the injustices of the past. Yet this book more than stands on its own, and will likely resonate with an even broader audience than its companion.--Jill Heritage Maza

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Horn Book Review

In this prequel to Pet (rev. 11/19), teenage Bitter (the mother of that book's protagonist) agonizes, from the safety of her arts boarding school, over whether her art and survival are morally sufficient answers to the violence and inequalities in her city, while her friends work on the dangerous front lines of protest and community response. When an act of police brutality pushes Bitter from crippling anxiety to rage, she paints -- and summons -- a living angel. It and other angels, summoned by other students, dismiss protest in favor of slaughter in their quest to free the city of "monsters." In contrast to the secretive violence of Pet, Bitter's confrontations are explosive and overt, and the setting is sharpened with real-world references, including modern protest language. The novel raises painfully complicated questions about responsibility, violence, and vengeance, though readers of Pet will know the answers: two decades on, it's clear that the angels' ruthlessness largely (if imperfectly) worked. This installment, accomplished in its use of uneasily surreal language, is at its strongest when depicting the hugely effective angels and Bitter's own emotional through line as she tries to balance justified fear and desire for safety against moral obligation. Alex Schaffner March/April 2022 p.(c) Copyright 2022. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A teenager wrestles with hope and revolution at a boarding school for gifted artists. Seventeen-year-old Bitter has finally found a home at Eucalyptus, which is run by the enigmatic Miss Virtue. Her best friend, Blessing, helps keep Bitter's dark, curly hair shaved. Behind the brick walls of Eucalyptus they are safe from the bullets and anxiety-inducing protests ringing through the air in the trouble-torn city of Lucille. But the walls aren't enough when Bitter starts to engage with the community of activists and citizens whose lives are ravaged by monsters. Eventually, her righteous anger births art that threatens to consume everyone with a fire that must be quelled or embraced. Emezi packs this novel with timely tension as characters struggle with knowing when and how to act in the face of unjustifiable state violence, among other societal atrocities. They acknowledge the reality of burnout for even the most stalwart resistance fighters and affirm that rest and physical nourishment are critical. Conversations about the impact of figurehead leadership show the importance of the collective as a driving force: "Leaders are dangerous. One person is weak; the people are strong." The story introduces a space where queer characters from myriad faith traditions receive love and support from peers and adults in a world that is not perfect but in which the people strive to create space for radical inclusion. A compact, urgent, and divine novel. (Fiction. 14-18) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.