Review: If Not Us by Mark Smith

With “If Not Us” Mark Smith joins the legion of authors confronting the unfolding catastrophe of climate change. 

Some authors have chosen to set their cli-fi in climate-ravaged near-futures; the damage done, humanity left to deal with the repercussions of a ruined world. Smith’s YA novel is set in the present, when there is still a chance for us — individually and collectively — to make a difference. And we have to — because if not us, who?

“If Not Us” is a coming-of-age tale that reminds us how inescapably entwined humankind’s reckoning with the climate crisis is to the development of our younger generations; the ones who are fated to deal with the consequences of our failure to act. Its message is clear and transparent — it’s the dominant theme, clearly — but Smith never lets it totally overshadow the genuineness of his protagonist and his personal story. The narrative is anchored by strong, nuanced characters; the emotions displayed are vivid and real.

Smith’s novel is a snapshot of a pivotal moment in Hesse’s life, when the seventeen-year-old surfer decides to make a stand, fight for his future, and get involved in the campaign to shut down Shelbourne’s coal mine, to the detriment of some personal relationships — but also when he experiences his first love in the form of Dutch exchange student Fenna, and confronts the legacy of his father’s death at sea. 

“If Not Us” is a page-turner and a rallying cry with heart and soul. It’s sensitive to the triumphs and agonies of being an adolescent in a world whose leaders don’t want to take your opinion seriously — but have no choice.

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