Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi
Thank you to NetGalley for the electronic advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult - Magical Realism
Content Warning: Police brutality, murder, sexual assault (mentioned)
Representation: Black, American, Caribbean, African, Disabled, Queer, Hijabi
From National Book Award finalist Akwaeke Emezi comes a companion novel to the critically acclaimed PET that explores both the importance and cost of social revolution--and how youth lead the way.
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?
This prequel to Pet is everything I hoped it would be. Emezi does an amazing job of explaining the realities of police brutality, gentrification, capitalism, and protests through the voices of Bitter and her friends.
In this short novel, we are transported back to Lucille in the middle of a revolution. Jam’s parents Bitter and Aloe meet at a Eucalyptus, a school for misfit queer artists in the middle of the city. I truly enjoyed seeing Bitter learn to open up with her friends and Aloe despite or because of the circumstances they are in. Bitter and Aloe melted my heart!
There were so many gems in this book but I don't want to spoil the book for y'all. Suffice it to say that Emezi pushes us to think about whether we have hope for the future and asks us to imagine what that future could look like. Do we cling to how things have always been, hide away hoping it will be over soon, or do we try to help in the ways that we can? They emphasize the importance of rest as well as understanding that every successful revolution needs more than fighters. It needs caretakers, thinkers, artists, cultivators, and more.
I highly recommend this book to everyone aged 14 and up, whether you're a parent/guardian, a teacher, an organizer, a student, etc. Especially, social workers, activists, community leaders, and artists.