ARC review: Depart, Depart! by Sim Kern

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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When an unprecedented hurricane devastates the city of Houston, Noah Mishner finds shelter in the Dallas Mavericks’ basketball arena. Though he finds community among other queer refugees, Noah fears his trans and Jewish identities put him at risk with certain capital-T Texans. His fears take form when he starts seeing visions of his great-grandfather Abe, who fled Nazi Germany as a boy. As the climate crisis intensifies and conditions in the shelter deteriorate, Abe’s ghost grows more powerful. Ultimately, Noah must decide whether he can trust his ancestor ⁠- and whether he’s willing to sacrifice his identity and community in order to survive.

Depart, Depart! grapples with intersections of social justice and climate change, asking readers to consider how they’ll react when the world changes in an instant. Who will we turn to? What will we take with us, and what will we have to leave behind? In our rapidly changing world, these are questions we grapple with. Focusing on finding and supporting community after disaster, Depart, Depart! is a story for these uncertain times.

Release date: September 1st

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★★★★

I had really high expectations for Depart, Depart! and I’m very happy to say they were fully met.

I’m always a little cautious when reading books involving climate change because after two climate change courses at uni I feel like I can easily be disappointed or see mistakes in the author’s research or in their attitude towards what climate change is/does and how we can/should respond to it. That was not the case here. I think the strength of this novel, from the climate change side of things, lies in how Sim Kern managed to write a cli-fi novella that can’t be classified as a dystopia: this is not something far off in the future, it’s not an unfamiliar setting with historical events that we haven’t witnessed yet. This is our world as we know it, and that’s all the more powerful for it. The climate disaster at the beginning of the book (and during the book, depicting a state that’s become a limbo between fire and water) is something that could happen next week, next month, next year. It is happening now right in front of our eyes.

Something else this book does wonderfully is showing how your marginalized identities are fully part of your story at any given moment. That is what non-marginalized folks don’t get when they talk about diverse books and either complain that they wish the marginalization was just part of the character but not the focus OR say that if someone’s identity is only mentioned in passing then it might as well not have been there in the first place. There is no splitting your identity from your story, and Noah’s particular circumstances make it so his identities are at the forefront, but they wouldn’t have mattered any less or any more, he wouldn’t have been any less or any more trans or Jewish if the author had chosen to write, let’s say, a more plot-focused book.

Noah’s arrival at the arena destined to Houston refugees is characterized by mutual recognition among queer and trans folks, something that more or less happens on a daily basis for us queer folks but is of the utmost importance for sticking together when everyone else is a potential threat to your immediate safety. Cue The Best Of Tropes, queer found family; and yet it’s not all smooth, because there’s diversity among queer people too, and sometimes sharing an acronym and even other identities doesn’t mean that you don’t have privilege over others and that you won’t use it in a selfish way. Sim Kern and this book gets it.

Noah’s story and in particular his days after hurricane Martha are as much influenced by his being trans as by his being Jewish. I’m not Jewish but I think the author did an amazing job at portraying different aspects of such a complex identity and its long history. Noah’s emotions about his ancestors, about Abe, finding the intersections between being Jewish and trans, his nightmares and visions about Nazis, the betrayals he suffered at the hands of other Jewish people; they were all palpable.

Kern’s writing was engaging and it really resonated with me, and the pacing of the novella was also perfect. By the end I felt as though I’d read a full length novel because Noah and the rest of the characters had started to feel like real people long before, almost as soon as I met them.

So in case it’s not clear I absolutely loved this novella and I would highly recommend checking it out. As for myself, I’m going to try to get my hands on whatever next Sim Kern writes.

TWs: misgendering and deadnaming, gender dysphoria, mentions and visions of concentration camps and Nazis, mentions of antisemitism, anti-queerness and slurs, gun violence

4 thoughts on “ARC review: Depart, Depart! by Sim Kern

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