The Petting Zoos by K. S. Covert

It’s been over ten years since the pandemic nicknamed the Henny Penny began. People are still masking and wearing gloves. Most work remotely and avoid groups larger than five people. People are going crazy and killing others and themselves from the lack of human touch and comfort.

And then there are the sex clubs.

We’re introduced to Lily, an intrepid magazine writer who is terrified to go back into the office when the government calls for it. She’s spent most of the past decade alone after her partner died and her roommate left. She’s barely functioning under the repressed grief and fear. Lily was afflicted with Henny Penny and nearly died herself, taking months to get back to a functional normal before the vaccines were developed.

Readers are taken throughout the terrifying, heartbreaking process of Lily finally getting used to going back to work, to being around people, and even to government-sanctioned touch therapy that leaves her in a sobbing heap on the floor multiple times a week.

Then, a fan of her articles sends her an invitation to a petting zoo. Around the same time, her doctor gives Lily an off-the-record prescription to go to one. To top it all off, her boss asks her to write about them.
Petting zoos are places where people gather in groups to touch and be touched. The government, known as the regency, has made them illegal for fear of the possibility of contracting illnesses including Henny Penny. Now Lily has an invitation to find one of these highly exclusive and illegal clubs.

From there the reader follows Lily on a journey where she learns to open up and become herself in a way she forgot how to do for a decade.
This book was a highly believable account of a woman who became repressed and
depressed and is learning how to live again. Going along with Lily on her adventure of who she is, what she likes, and her struggle with her desire to stay safe while also living was a privilege that made it difficult to put the book down.

This feels very much like a coming-of-age story, except the coming of age is learning how to live again in your late thirties, or early forties in some harrowing scenarios. While it’s difficult to read the in-depth information about Henny Penny without relating it to COVID-19, it feels almost like an alternate universe at times.
However, while Henny Penny is still considered a problem and the main character almost died from it, the health measures are treated rather laughingly. The concerns are blown off and there are some definite anti-masking sentiments that run throughout this, which seem irresponsible.

The second offputting thing about this book is how the characters continuously bring up BDSM practices as something disgusting to scoff at and then partake in what seems to specifically be BDSM practices in their sex clubs. This seems disingenuous. Oh, yes. There’s also a lot of sex which takes place in the book, and it’s fairly well-written. In fact, it’s positively descriptive.
Come for the sex, stay for the character development.

K.S. Covert examined her talents and realized she had two options for a career: writer or rock singer. Writing seemed more stable, and a career in journalism ensued. But always the idea of living to write, instead of just writing to live, beckoned. The Petting Zoos is her first novel. She lives in Ottawa.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press (May 24 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 368 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1459748808
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1459748804

Stephanie Sirois (they/them) is a writer, artist and journalist on unceded Wolastoqiyik territory. They spend their time reading, writing, making art and exhorting their family into playing board games with them.