Grief floods through Noah: A Review of Sim Kern’s Depart, Depart!

by Jun 25, 2020Book Reviews

When catastrophe strikes, our agency to determine where we shelter and who we associate with is deeply constrained, and for queer people, this loss of agency can prove dangerous. Sim Kern’s debut novella, Depart, Depart! is a powerful portrayal of how transness complicates survival in the wake of a climate-change-fueled natural disaster.

The novella opens with a cataclysmic hurricane that floods Houston. Noah Mishner is an evacuee from Houston who arrives at the Dallas Mavericks’ arena-turned-emergency shelter, exhausted and unsure how his friends and family fared.

As Noah navigates life as a visibly trans person in an emergency shelter, he is visited by the boy-ghost of his great-grandfather, Abe, who narrowly escaped the Holocaust. With Abe’s visitations come increasingly powerful visions of Nazi-occupied Germany, exposing Noah to the violent oppression of his ancestors. Abe’s ghost forces Noah to reckon with his family’s intergenerational trauma, as well as Noah’s connection to his Jewishness—an identity that is complicated by his queerness.

Abe’s ghost, compellingly wrought by Kern, externalizes Noah’s self-preservation instinct so that he may be in conversation with it. These conversations are the beating heart of the novella, as Noah’s survivor’s guilt is compounded by his ancestor’s. Kern honors self-preservation, but also questions it. They ask, do we truly survive if we leave our connections behind?

As frightening as these visions are, Noah is often more terrified by the everyday horror of being trans in public. Noah, eight months on testosterone, struggles to navigate sleeping arrangements and personal hygiene under the gaze of hegemonic, “capital-T” Texans. Without his supply of medication, Noah’s increasing gender dysphoria creates a heightened sense of fear and vulnerability, which threatens to overwhelm him. For trans readers, these moments may be painfully familiar; for others, they may illuminate the privileges of being cisgender.

While Noah’s queer body makes him a target of bigoted evacuees, he also attracts a found family of similarly displaced queers. Noah shares several touching moments with older queers, a bridging of worldviews that is so valuable and yet so rarely seen in media. David, a middle-aged, gay, Jewish man, acquaints Noah with the traditions his forefathers left behind. And though Noah and Elena, a trans, gen-X Latina, have little other than their transness in common, they stand by each other with a fierce loyalty born out of shared struggle.

Kern, however, does not shy away from in-fighting between queers. In several scenes, the characters debate the safety of drawing attention to their queerness. Elena wants to fly under the radar as much as possible while Malone, a Vietnamese-American, non-binary Zoomer, wants to stand up and demand equitable treatment. Queer readers will be intensely familiar with both voices. Is being visible safe here? Am I doing a disservice by erasing myself? As Elena says, “There are times for pride, and there are times for survival, and this here’s a survival situation.”

Depart, Depart! is a multifaceted gem that brings an intersectional awareness to each character’s specific cultural locations and vulnerabilities. Kern’s voice insists on nuance and does not diminish the difficult realities queer people face in times of crisis. Their writing is vivid, immediate, and devastating at times, but ultimately hopeful. As our climate crisis worsens, Kern’s story is a full-throated shout of warning that raises one hand in protest while the other holds close the familial connections that ground us in times of upheaval.


You can purchase the book from Stelliform Press or IndieBound.org for a list of your independent local bookstores!


Sim Kern is a speculative fiction writer, exploring intersections of climate change, queerness, and social justice. Their quiet horror novella Depart, Depart! was released in September 2020. Sim also has recently published short stories in Metaphorosis, The Colored Lens, and Wizards in Space Magazine. They are represented by Mariah Nichols of the D4EO Literary Agency for their YA novel, Sand and Swarm. Sim attended Oberlin College for a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. Afterwards, they moved to Houston, where they spent ten years teaching English to middle and high schoolers. Following the birth of their daughter, they began pursuing a career in writing. They live near the bayou with their husband, toddler, and two very good dogs.

Culture Control, and the Fight for San Francisco: Tina Horn Interviews Dorian Katz

Last fall, the West SOMA Community Benefits Board (WSCBD) censored public art for the Big Belly trash can project in the SOMA neighborhood. The artists (Justin Hall, Axeish Guy, James Hion and Dorian Katz) were commissioned because WSCBD reached out to the Leather...

Review of Matthew Clark Davison’s Doubting Thomas

Matthew Clark Davison's debut novel, Doubting Thomas, will be published in Summer 2021 by Amble Press. He is creator and teacher of The Lab: Writing Classes with MCD, a non-academic school started in 2007 in a friend's living room. The textbook version of The Lab,...

“Do You Have a Plan?” by Mike Karpa

Mike Karpa (he/him, mikekarpa.com) is a queer San Francisco writer and translator (from Japanese and Chinese). In recent years his writing has appeared in Oyster River Pages, Tahoma Literary Review and Tin House (featured in #MemoirMonday). His 1990s-throwback Tokyo...

Our Protections are Earthly: N/A Oparah’s Thick Skin

N/A Oparah (she/her) is a queer, first-generation Nigerian-American writer. Her other work has appeared in Madwomen in the Attic, QXotc, Fictional International, ANMLY and other journals. N/A has received residencies in writing, art, and narrative media from Can...

Acid-Wash Jeans and Handbag House Anthems: A Review of Randall Mann’s Stunning New collection A Better Life (Persea Press)

Randall Mann is the author of four previous books of poetry, Proprietary, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and the Northern California Book Award, as well as a book of criticism, The Illusion of Intimacy : On Poetry and co-author of the textbook...

Submit to Foglifter

Foglifter is now closed for submission, but is still accepting cover art year-round—and we're a paid market!

Support Foglifter

Help us continue providing a platform for intersectional queer and trans writing. Donate today!

Follow foglifter
on twitter

Highlights include Dorian Katz' @poppersthepony interview with @foglifterpress on art censorship, sexuality, and culture control. #ArtistOnTwitter https://foglifterjournal.com/2021/05/26/culture-control-and-the-fight-for-san-francisco-tina-horn-interviews-dorian-katz/

In the Zoom green room getting ready to go with @JavierStanziola, Alexaner Aguayo, Sean Gasper Bye, Kanika Agrawal, @foglifterpress and the @wwborders crew.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This