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.
This book is the product of the Gay Agenda your grandmother warned you about. If reading from the perspective of a transdude and his found queer family sounds unpleasant, this might not be the literary experience you are looking for. However, I urge you to try it anyway and fight through your [c]iscomfort. You might learn a thing or two.
Sim Kern's writing immediately pulled me into the character's body and allowed me to explore a world so close to my own. It is stark, it is dark, and it is rivoting. I tore through this novel during breaks at work and feel as if I've gone on a journey worthy of a full-length series rather than just a novella. Seriously, it was hard to put down.
As a lifelong Houston resident, in some ways it felt like reading an easily-invisioned future for this swamp town, and as I sit in the torrential downpour over my car in downtown Houston after work, this book feels like a warning. I feel the need to make sure I have everything still packed and ready in my emergency hurricane kit at home. Then I need a nap. Yes, a short novella did this to me. Don't pick it up and act like I didn't warn you.
I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.
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
I wish I could not shelve this book as contemporary. Depart, Depart follows Noah, a Jewish trans man who ends up in a shelter after a hurricane devastates Houston. It's a story about what societal collapse brings out in people - about connection and grief and rage, and about how catastrophe puts even more of a target on marginalized people's backs.
I usually can't read stories about natural disasters, but this one worked for me - I couldn't stop reading it. Maybe it's because it's short, maybe it's because it's not as hopeless as it could have been, despite being realistically bleak; maybe it's because reading from the point of view of someone who is also constantly afraid makes it paradoxically less exhausting. (I don't have to feel all of it on my own, I guess?)
The most chilling part of reading Depart, Depart is that it feels exactly like something one could see playing out. Not only because it follows a climate disaster that could actually happen in the present, but because of how real the characters and their dynamics felt. The portrayal of the queer "found family" feels close to reality from the big picture - how queer people quickly group together from the beginning, because there's safety in numbers, but also how the most privileged and rich don't care about the others once they're safe themselves - to the details, like accusations of oppression olympics during tense moments, the non-binary person wondering about vegan options, Mountain Goats mentions… I'm not American but if you've been around US trans twitter for enough time, you know these people. That's why it hurts.
All the while, Noah is being haunted by visions of his great-grandfather, who escaped Nazi Germany as a boy. There are parallels between Noah's situation and Abe's, and this story also follows what it means for Noah to be Jewish and raised in an atheist family - the history that goes with that, and what has been passed down to him in good and bad and all the ways in between.
After all, this felt like a story about how we can't change what was, but we can choose to not repeat someone else's - or our own - mistakes. Noah has left behind people in the past to tragic circumstances, but now he can choose to stay with those he's grown to care about - because something Depart, Depart highlights is the importance of connections between people, how they help us in the most difficult times.
This was an interesting little novella that certainly wasn't without its flaws but was ultimately very readable. It's about a 20-something Jewish trans guy who is the sole survivor of his friend group and family from a climate disaster in Houston. He arrives at a makeshift shelter and immediately finds a queer corner consisting of a Latina trans woman, a nonbinary Asian person, plus a couple periphery queers. While there, he starts to see the ghost of his grandfather who survived the Holocaust.
At times this was too didactic and obvious for my tastes, plus I didn't care for the present tense narration. But as I said I did find it very readable, and I appreciated the culturally specific speculative aspect (even if it was overexplained) and the fact that the author wasn't afraid to tackle rifts within the LGBTQ community.
The rich white cis gay dudes peacing out without having anyone their contact info once they got a hold of their money again was chillingly realistic. The argument about privilege between Elena, a Mexican trans woman who in her own words "doesn't pass", and Malone, an AFAB nonbinary person read by strangers as a woman, was something I haven't seen much of in fiction but certainly in real life, so that was cool to see. Also, they move past the argument and remain found family!
But I wonder if this white protagonist is being set up as the good white queer by not abandoning his POC friends. I don't think it's quite a white saviour complex, but it feels a bit iffy to me.
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.
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.
I'm a consultant for Stelliform Press, so I got to read this novella when it was first submitted, and I've been excited for this marvelous story to get out into the world for a while now. Read the other 5-star community reviews here on Goodreads for some plot points and insightful commentary. Depart, Depart! is a must-read.
*I received an e-arc of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Depart, Depart! is a deeply moving and political story about gender, queerness, religion, global warming, bigotry, police corruption, gun control, the holocaust and so much more.… We follow Noah, who has just been rescued after a hurricane causes dangerous flooding in Houston, Texas. He's been evacuated to the Dallas Mavericks' basketball arena, which has been repurposed as a shelter. Noah, a gay trans man, is completely alone, but soon finds himself gathering with the other LGBT people who have also been sent there. With beds set out in rows, the shelter soon becomes a microcosmic look at neighbourhood dynamics, and tribal politics vs collectivism. It examines the way that queerness is one of the only factors other than race that affects this.
Noah’s also being haunted by his Great-Grandfather Abe’s ghost, or at least a child version of Abe, at the age he would have been when he escaped Nazi Germany and ultimately a concentration camp, by stowing away in a duffle bag. Abe acts as a guide (and sometimes a foil) to Noah throughout the story, often moving him towards certain decisions or leading him to safety. As these interactions with Abe become more tense, Noah is taken by visions that blur Nazi Germany with his current reality. Noah often feels a lot of conflict about receiving help from him, as Abe went on to abandon his family as an adult and was generally hated by the rest of Noah’s family. Abe is in some ways a symbol of individualism, and the narrative doesn’t completely shun him for this, but acts as a trigger for Noah to think about it. It becomes an exploration of whether one must deserve survival, or if that is even possible, and poses the question: should you ever put your own safety above others? or should you ever put your own safety at risk to help others?
Ultimately Depart, Depart! examines, in almost too perfectly and coincidently a timely manner, the way that a mass disaster can often bring out the worst, and most prejudiced side of people. But the transphobia and homophobia and anti-semitism that Noah faces in the novel are no less harmful or damaging because of what is going on in the world around him. It can hard to fight against your base flight instincts, to look after anyone beside yourself, but this story highlights that we must make the effort to do this. We can only fight mass injustice, and global warming, and mass disasters collectively. They are not completely separate struggles, and also not struggles that we should face separately.
A lovely story of a young transgender man battling his demons, literally, and discovering what sort of person he wants to be. Also, there’s a killer flood and a roving band of gun-toting thugs. Exciting, heart-felt, transformative. An important story for queer folk and their allies. And, it includes fantastic Jewish representation, especially for people (some of my family included) who are from non-traditional Jewish backgrounds. A fast read, eye-opening and engaging.
I received a free eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Beautiful story about a young Jewish trans man in a hurricane shelter in Texas, haunted by the ghost of his great-grandfather who'd escaped the Holocaust (not much of a spoiler - it's on the first page). All about finding identity and family (found and blood), and dealing with oppression. Great rumination on climate change too. I only wish there was more of it! Though I did like the real-time feel of it with such a short pace, I could have used an entire novel.
I absolutely loved this hopeful, beautiful novel about solidarity, the development of identity, and the strength of community and love and acceptance. Noah is a survivor of a devastating hurricane that destroys Houston. Evacuated to Dallas, he's given shelter in an athletic arena, where neighborhoods of similar folks spring up. There he finds other trans people who are--like him--in need of medical care and emotional support. And to top it all off, Noah is being haunted by his great-grandfather Abe, whose presence has been both life-saving and disquieting. Over the course of several weeks, Noah and his new friends form tight bonds, face very real and very dangerous transphobia and other forms of bigotry, and begin to make steps towards creating new lives for themselves.
Kern does an absolutely beautiful job of showing the ways in which trans people are treated by those who are ignorant, unaccepting, or think of themselves as allies but haven't truly gotten past deeply ingrained beliefs to the contrary. They illustrate the difficulties that all refugees from minority groups in volatile situations like those that arise in shelters are forced to face, and show how much it can mean to have a few people in authority on your side. They also write with great depth about the struggles in trying to reconcile religion with lived experiences. Noah is a secular Jew, but in researching why Abe is haunting him, he finds religious texts and arguments that are both enormously uplifting and relatable, and others that make him push back from identifying as a Jew. Based on my own reading, I think secular Jews and queer people are going to feel a chill of understanding as they read about Noah's experiences as he thinks about his Jewish heritage and the way its religious texts can offer both comfort and despair.
This is such a real story, and such an important one, that I want this novel to succeed: I want it taught in schools, I want it chosen for book clubs and reading groups, I want it on library displays everywhere. I want everyone to read it, and hope.
For such a short book this really packs a punch & is so layered. So much about climate change, man-made climate disasters, family (both blood & chosen), finding true safety as a marginalized person, and history.
This was a quick and interesting read. I love a book with good themes and this definitely delivered that. I really enjoyed the discussion around community, identity, and family. There were also a number of important themes layered on top of this: (very clearly) themes around climate, but also race, policing, and more. I hope there is a sequel coming because I am more than ready! I want to get to know these characters even more and see more of the characters' processing the event. There was definitely some discussion of grief and trauma, but being further away from the event, I would be really interested to see what that processing will look like.
Thank you to Stelliform Press & Netgalley for an arc for an unbiased review.
Kern tells the story of Noah Mishner who finds shelter after a major hurricane within the walls of the Dallas Mavericks' basketball area. Noah starts seeing visions of his absent grandfather, Abe, who had fled Nazi Germany as a boy. All the while he is just trying to survive in a micro-community full of the same aggressors before the hurricane happened. This tiny novella packs such a punch. There were a few anxiety inducing moments but as someone new to the horror genre I feel like it was something I could handle. Within only 70 pages I found myself about to cry more than once. I devoured this in a single sitting and can't wait until I can go back and highlight the passages that really sunk in for me.
Houston author Sim Kern delivers a stunningly crafted and deeply felt debut with this dark fantasy novella, which tackles an impressive array of themes and ideas in barely 100 pages. In a near-future America ravaged by natural disasters wrought by climate change, Noah, a young Jewish trans man from Houston, flees a hurricane and flash flood that has wiped out the city, taking refuge in the Dallas Mavericks Arena, repurposed into a relief shelter. There he befriends other refugees from Austin’s queer community, such as Malone, who’s nonbinary, and trans woman Elena.
As tensions rise both within and without the stadium, Noah has another problem to deal with: he is haunted by a dybbuk, the ghost of his grandfather Abe, a Holocaust survivor. Abe’s warnings are the reason Noah survived in the first place. But as situations worsen for Noah and his new friends, Abe is now causing Noah to struggle with whether to stick by them, or abandon them (as Abe once abandoned his own family) to save himself.
With unflinching honesty that allows every scene and every character to ring 100% true, Kern depicts the fear LGBT people live under daily in a bigoted society, ramped up by the need for said bigots to find scapegoats for any calamity they experience. Loyalty and community are shown to be essential to survival in times of strife. And despite the probably unavoidable inclusion of angry armed white men, Kern also avoids easy, ideologically motivated stereotypes, as Noah and his friends encounter presumed enemies who are good and hopeful allies who aren’t. Depart, Depart! reminds us that even in the darkest times, the course of history eventually tilts towards hope and justice if you’re willing to stay in the fight.
Yes! Finally I have found an LGBT+ story that isn't about romance. I have longed for an interesting story that has a wide range of characters on the queer spectrum without it being about their love interest.
A hurricane destroys Texas (which is happening right now 😬) and Noah is spared only because of a mysterious, ghost-like materialization of his great-grandfather as a child. Abe is a Jewish child that survived the holocaust by being hidden in a duffel bag and boarding a ship.
After being rescued, Noah finds himself a piece of normalcy in small group of queers in a popped up shelter in a sport's arena. This group finds comfort in each other, but others in the arena become more and more aggressive. Abe helps Noah navigate his courage and survive the insanity with his newly made family.
This novella is a great start to an awesome story. At times things didn't transition well or could have used more descriptive language, but the plot is solid and Noah's character development is building toward an amazing character.
The last quarter of the book was much more fast paced and I enjoyed it most. It's a very short amount of space to fill with so much knowledge and I could see it being structured as a full length novel. After that ending, I really hope this isn't it for Sim Kern!
I’m sorry but I really didn’t like this one. The writing was okay, but it’s the narrative and even more the characters that totally turn me off with this book. For the characters this is more of a personal match that didn’t fit, as for the narrative I think there were too many subject trying to be forced I such a short novella and the queer aspect was way too present for me. I have nothing against any kind of genre of sexes preferences or whatever but I always find it weird to put it out up front. I never present myself has a male, born male, and being totally heterosexual, and too often I find it’s the case with LGBTQ book, it’s okay to have them, but it should be a part of a story, not a focus point in my opinion. I would retrieve the horror classification of this one, because juts no, and maybe put a LGBTQ instead, it would be more representative in my opinion and would targeted the public more precisely. Not for me!
In honor of the Trans Rights Readathon, I read Depart, Depart! It follows the story of a trans character after a disaster in Houston, Texas. As tension rises in the post-disaster environment, he struggles to combat an ancestral spirit whose intentions are unknown.
It was a fun read that presented beautiful representation for the LGBTQIA+ community. While the novella had its faults, I enjoyed the story nevertheless.
Nakedly aching Sim Kern's DEPART, DEPART! beautifully weaves together a ghost story about disaster, ancestry, trauma, found family, and ultimately what it means to survive with a whole soul. I couldn't put it down.
Amazing novella combining things I love: dybbuks, resisting (neo-)Nazis, internal monologues about self and its biases and external debates about privilege. Thrilling climate fiction full of diversity, loved it.
I enjoyed the juxtaposition of current fears (climate catastrophe, fights for gender identity and the imperative to be utterly oneself) with historic ( a Jewish ghost from the time of Nazis. The journey of discovery that Noah takes us on is heartening - in a life of so much chance and circumstance, we get to choose some pretty incredible things, how we act, how we display love to family and friends, and that past choices don't define who we will be in the future. The writing was strong, the characters are suitably likeable or detestable, and the end holds so much hope, just what we need in these uncertain times.
Read this for my book club and to be honest I more than likely wouldn't have picked this book up....ever. SOOOOO glad that I did; this book made me cry, think about every word written and then spiral into how f*cked up humanity can be. Do yourself a favor, read this book, it changed my thinking.
A tightly written, harrowing story I couldn't put down, Depart, Depart! hit both close to home (geographically) and far outside of it (religiously and gender identity-wise).
Part ghost story, part survival story, part bildungsroman, and all too real. Sim Kern manages to pack entire generations into a relatively small space with an ending that is not hopeful so much as determined. I want to go into further detail, but don't want to give anything away. If you're a fan of queer novellas along the lines of Sarah Gailey, I would highly recommend.
I want more. The combination of the United States faults of social injustice, climate change and no thought for the future except oneself, brings to the forefront the end of time. Wake up, there is no coffee to smell.
This is a really phenomenal debut that raises urgent questions about displacement, disaster, ancestry, identity, and survival. The rough outline: Noah, a Jewish trans man in Houston, fights to survive in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane. As he navigates the FEMA camps and football stadium shelters, he is both haunted and guided by the ghost of his great grandfather Abe, who fled Nazi Germany as a boy.
It’s a fresh story that seamlessly blends a powerful array of social experiences and literary traditions, many of which have been missing from the emerging climate fiction (“cli-fi”) genre. Sim Kern skillfully tells an original story about how our present is irrevocably tethered to our past, and about what queer survival might look like in our ominous climatic future. Striking, distinct, alarming, resilient, gritty and hopeful, I would highly recommend it. I’m very excited about Kern’s work and look forward to reading whatever they publish next.
It’s about the groups and cultures that we’re a part of – those that we choose, and those that we’re born to and may prefer to leave behind.
It’s about the violence that finds us when we’re at our most vulnerable, and the demons (real and imagined) that force us to make difficult choices - not just of survival, but of who we’re going to be and what remains of us when we’re safe again.
It’s about the people that leave us when we need them most. And it asks what it says about us, when we’re the ones leaving.
It’s a harrowing, frightening and eye-opening story that feels simultaneously impossible and fantastical, and undeniably real and honest.
You should really read Depart, Depart! I promise you’ll learn something – maybe about someone else, and hopefully about who you're going to be, when it's all over.