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Depart, Depart! by Sim Kern4 stars

Buy from Barnes & NobleBuy from IndieBoundBuy from PowellsHouston author Sim Kern delivers a stunningly crafted and deeply felt debut with this dark fantasy novella, which tackles some compelling 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 some 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 dudes in a story set in Texas, Kern mostly avoids easy, ideologically motivated stereotypes, as Noah and his friends encounter presumed enemies who are good to them 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.