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Book Review: “The Petting Zoos” leaves you touch-starved

What if the COVD-19 pandemic forced people to never touch each other? This is what K.S. Covert seeks to answer in her debut “The Petting Zoos” and the consequences years later.

Set a decade after the deadly Henny Penny virus, the world is gradually returning to a sense of normalcy. Despite the numerous preventative measures, citizens are still required to wear protective masks, gloves, and disinfected clothing by law. Dozens of people have been driven to insanity and suicide by not being able to touch another human–a side effect of the pandemic and creating a literally touch-starved population.

Lily, a recovering victim of the pandemic, has lived in isolation for years. Still, a new return-to-work order throws her back into the world. She receives an invitation to a petting zoo–an illegal club where people go to touch or be touched by others–drags into her the underground world of petting zoos and obsession.

After 2 years of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, this concept takes social distancing to an extreme–a terrifying parallel to what we’ve experienced for two years. Unlike other modern apocalyptic or alternative history novels published in the last two years, “The Petting Zoos” is a unique take rather than simply a pandemic wrecking the world. Covert’s thoughtful details on her post-pandemic world are so realistic you would think they traveled 10 years into the future to see what our world would look like after COVID-19.

Lily and Kaz present opposites experiences of the pandemic world–one who cloistered themselves versus an opportunistic businessman who shirked from isolation. Both are nuanced foils, but the writing style of the two dragged in the beginning. From a stylistic choice, the blandness portrayed Lily’s evolution, but it was difficult getting through the first 100 pages because of this choice. After the 100 pages? The writing flourished without fail, and the novel became addictive.

“The Petting Zoos” isn’t just a deep dive into the physical and psychological effects of a touch-starved world–as Lily explores the petting zoos–she begins to explore her sexuality and relationship with an owner of a petting zoo. Erotic and perfect for anyone who’s been touch-starved lately, Covert’s writing style is immersive and blush-inducing. Besides the steamy love story, “The Petting Zoos” is very much a story where the protagonist falls back in love with themselves and life. After two years of pandemic fears, Lily’s self-love journey hits all the marks.

Sexy, heart-felt, and a surprising parallel to our current landscape, “The Petting Zoos” will leave you yearning for touch and the pre-pandemic world.

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