Review: “Depart, Depart!” by Sim Kern

Release Date: September 1, 2020
Publisher: Stelliform Press
Genre: Climate Fiction

Description

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.

My Thoughts

When the ghost of his dead grandfather appears to Noah Mishner, he comes in the form of the young boy he was when his uncle shoved him into a duffle bag and snuck him out of Nazi Germany. Noah follows the ghost boy’s warning and braves the wind and rain of a Texas hurricane, barely making it out alive before a broken dam floods and destroys his neighborhood. After being abandoned by his conservative parents, his found family was all the connection he had left in the world. Did they make it out alive? Noah has no way of knowing.

Now in a Houston arena as a “refugee,” Noah’s safety is fleeting. Power-mad cops, violent white supremacists, and fairweather allies threaten the little queer community that forms around him. At first, Noah believes his grandfather’s spirit is protecting him, a change of pace from how distant and disinterested he was in his own son’s life. But eventually Noah comes to suspect the ghost may be foisting his own choices onto his grandson. 

Sim Kern tackles some really interesting aspects of intersectionality in Depart, Depart!. Noah has a strained relationship with his Jewish heritage. His father, traumatized by his own father’s abuse, rejects Judaism and denies his son the opportunity and choice to learn. The guilt and shame of being thrown out by his family for being trans collides with the newly discovered knowledge that his ancestral religion has a broader understanding of queerness than he thought. Kern also explores the different layers of the queer experience and how they shift based on race, class, gender identity, and appearance (passing). Everyone wants to survive, and each queer person has a different strategy for doing so. 

I’d never read anything by Sim Kern before, but if this is what they can do with a debut, I look forward to their future body of work.

Buy this book at bookshop.org (affiliate link)

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy.

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