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Depart, Depart: Sim Kern – a book review

Kern’s 76-page novelette is a gritty and often tragic piece of speculative fiction. The main character, Noah, is a Jewish transman forced to live in a basketball arena with hundreds of other refugees after Houston is flooded. Noah is afraid to be noticed, but his visions of Nazis and concentration camps, and the presence of a child ghost who may be his grandfather makes it even harder to fit in. He is terrified of confrontation, which might be why he didn’t insist his flat mates join him when his grandfather urged him to get to higher ground. Now his friends are probably dead, his parents too, and he is painfully visible amongst the distraught families and angry white cis men with assault rifles.

[I]f he didn’t think he was coming back, he would have been morally obligated to drag his roommates out by the ankles, if that’s what it took to get them to come with. He didn’t. He didn’t tell them about the ghost boy from the dream, or “get up the stairs,” or his deep-down bad feeling.

While he makes friends with a small group of queer people, it’s exhausting to feel frightened all the time, and his body betrays him when he no longer has access to testosterone. As tensions rise, the usual scapegoats are targeted, and graffitied slurs bleed through the white paint used to cover them. His grandfather warns him to run, but can he leave his new friends behind?

Noah is a wonderful character as are his new friends Malone and Elena. Kern makes us care about and fear for the safety of these three people – one transman, one transwoman, and one non-binary other. The reaction to them, the hatred and fear, is all too familiar. These are three people, made vulnerable by circumstance and intolerance, yet strengthened by friendship.

Depart, Depart is a powerful read; we can only hope that it is not a prescient one.

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