Book Review: Depart, Depart!, by Sim Kern
Silas O. | 05/20/2020
Depart, Depart! is an unapologetically queer cli-fi touching on the very real potential of our current climate crisis in a this-shit-could-happen-in-the-near-future plot while showcasing the hate and discrimination LGBTQA+ folks deal with even during natural disasters.
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.
Noah Mishner, as far as he knows, has lost everything. His home, his roommates, his family, following a massive flood brought on from Hurricane Martha. He ambles around the bright lights of the Dallas’ Mavericks’ arena, bleary eyed and concerned for his friends and family. If his great-grandfather’s ghost hadn’t come to him at just the right time, he would’ve been swept up by the rapidly rising waters.
Not only is Noah attempting to fight the aftermath of an ongoing climate crisis, he’s also clutching to his identity despite the discrimination and risks to his safety within the shelter. He finds friendship with other refugees who fall under the LGBTQA+ umbrella, forming their own location within the arena, to protect one another. Noah even befriends an older Jewish man who reminds him of his own father, who he hasn’t spoken to in a year, since he came out.
His complicated relationship with his heritage is reflected in the way he sees the world and himself, layered with visits from his ghostly great-grandfather. The growth of how he views this culminates naturally as the story progresses, coalescing with lingering thoughts of his family.
“What kind of man won’t fight for their lady’s honor?” Carla sneers at him.
“A Jewish one,” he answers. “And they’re not a lady.”
Malone laughs, a little too hard, and lets Noah lead them away. He regrets the joke now. It’s too much like something his dad would’ve said.
His great-grandfather, Abe, comes to him as a young boy, testing his patience and his sanity. Although Abe saved him from the rising waters, their views don’t align, putting Noah in several precarious and sometimes terrifying situations. Noah endures what most cis folks wouldn’t consider or concern themselves with: receiving medical care without being misgendered, finding safe showering facilities while keeping himself safe, and staying alive among hateful people.
Noah’s group within the shelter were fully-fleshed and intriguing, their identities nuanced and alive. I particularly enjoyed Malone and would kill for a story of their own. Their humor lightened the story in the perfect spots.
Malone leans into Noah’s ear, “Nonnnnn-binary octopus doo doo,” they whisper, waving their arms like noodles. Noah laughs, but part of him is annoyed by this reminder of their otherness—how neither of them belong inside the neat constructs of children’s songs.
Thanks, Sim, I had this song stuck in my head for about a day after reading this but now my kids have a new variety of the song that I absolutely love and 100% stan.
This powerful story took me directly into Noah’s world, placing me beneath the glaring lights of the arena, having me experience Noah’s fear, his grief, his dysphoria. For a novella, the story captured the reality, the possibilities, and what we as a society may soon be facing. Rising waters, burning cities, and global collapse due to the very real climate crisis hovering over all of us.
I can’t wait to see what Sim puts out into the world next.
4.5 out of 5 rainbows