Locke, Christopher. Persimmon Takes on Humanity. (The Enlightenment Adventures: Book One.) Los Angeles, CA: Fathoming Press, 2015.
Review by Genevieve Cottraux
In 2016 at the Fifth Annual Conscious Eating Conference in Berkeley, California, animal advocate Christopher Locke discussed animal rights fiction as his part on the Fiction and Children’s Authors Panel with fellow writers Ruby Roth (We Don’t Eat Animals) and Michael Bedar (Sweet Healing). In his talk, Locke touched on changing the world through imagination, creating characters that take on and care about issues, using adventure to develop a page-turning thriller, and how as an author, one must care about the characters and accurately depict what animals go through.
Classified as Young Adult Fiction, Persimmon Takes on Humanity centers on raccoon Persimmon, a spunky and scrappy heroine if there ever was one, and her forest friends as they try to rescue other animals suffering at the hands of humans. Animals they try to rescue include minks at a fur farm, cattle headed to the slaughterhouse, and the numerous animals being held captive for purposes of human entertainment by a particularly cruel and inhumane circus operation.
Dedicated in part to “all of the critters of the world who are suffering at the hands of humans,” the book is powerful in its portrayal of the cruelty animals in all facets of life are subject to, including “pet” animals like the dog Bruiser whom Persimmon and gang rescue from neglect, chained in a yard and mistrustful of all. In Locke’s goal of accurately depicting what animals go through, he succeeds almost too well. The book is very dark, and the descriptions harrowing. As an adult reader and animal rights activist, I found some of the scenes to be too graphic in illustrating the violence, pain, and death of animal exploitation. There’s a sense of hopelessness to the mission of the Uncaged Alliance, as the band of animals call themselves. Most of the humans are portrayed as bad, and despite Persimmon’s determination, many of the animals (and humans) meet a grisly end. I felt defeated by the book—I was hoping for a touch of humor and optimism and found neither.
There is hope to be found in the fight for rights for all living beings. Recently in Argentina, for example, Judge Marie Alejandra granted 35-year old captive chimpanzee Cecilia non-human rights of health and happiness, and ordered her release from the Mendoza Zoo to a sanctuary. After 146 years, the traveling Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, long a target of animal rights activists, performed their last show on May 21, 2017. SeaWorld is phasing out its orca entertainment shows.
I would have preferred that Persimmon and her brave allies had some successes along the way, that they meet a few kind humans and that some of the bad humans become enlightened rather than subject to violent retribution. Young adult fiction is clearly powerful; the Hunger Games book trilogy by Suzanne Collins sold more than 65 million copies and had a major impact on American popular culture. American University in Washington, DC added a course to its American Studies Program—”The Hunger Games: Class, Politics, and Marketing”—that will examine issues including oppression and feminism. Locke’s Enlightenment Adventures, planned as a trilogy, has the potential to make a major impact on our perceptions of animals and animal suffering. However, I hope that Locke will add some moments of optimism and victory to the upcoming books in order to keep us all engaged. The graphic nature will certainly rile up some readers and serve as a call to action, yet for others, it will be a turn-off that keeps them from further exploration. Much like the debate over the use of graphic imagery in the presentation of animal rights issues and whether they lead to compassion burnout, graphic language around violence can also lead to head turning and burnout. However, any way you look at it, Persimmon is a charming, brave, strong heroine, a role model and the heart of the series.