If Not Us

Mark Smith

If Not Us
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If Not Us

Mark Smith

He’d always accepted the mine and power station were part of Shelbourne. On still nights, the thrum of the turbines echoed down the valley and melded with the sound of the ocean until you couldn’t tell them apart.

Hesse lives a small coastal town, where a coalmine and power station are a part of the scenery, and a part of the ever-growing problem of climate change. His mum is a member of a local environmental group campaigning to close the mine and shut down the power station. It’s a no-brainer, of course, but Hesse is more interested in surfing-and in Fenna, the new exchange student from the Netherlands.

But when someone seems to be trying to derail the campaign, and his friends' families face losing their jobs, Hesse begins to realise that things are complex.

Even though he’s reluctant to step into the spotlight, with Fenna’s encouragement he decides it’s time to make a stand. Because some things are too important to leave to everyone else. And even one small, nervous voice can make a difference.

When Hesse agrees to speak at a protest meeting he has no idea of the storm he is about to unleash. If Not Us is Mark Smith’s first standalone YA novel following his hugely successful Winter trilogy. It’s another great story with an engaging and relatable protagonist, as well as an impassioned plea for climate change action that will inspire and empower readers of all ages.

Review

At its core, Mark Smith’s newest novel, If Not Us is a coming-of-age story – it’s just that now more than ever, an inescapable part of growing up in this modern world is reckoning with the oncoming climate crisis and deciding to take a stand.

For the carefree 17-year-old surfer Hesse, his involvement in the campaign to shut down his town’s local coal station is just one facet of his greater journey of maturation that also involves experiencing the trials of first love with a Dutch exchange student and coming to terms with his family trauma. The book is also a blast to read, filled with earnest romance, great drama and some brilliant descriptions of surfing that made me wish I knew how to surf as well. Hesse is a fun and complex character who will be relatable to anyone who’s felt stuck in high school, still trying to find out who they really are.

In many ways, Hesse’s hometown of Shelbourne is a microcosm of Australia: sunny beaches, a tight-knit community and a gigantic coal-mine-shaped elephant in the room. It’s exhilarating to watch Shelbourne’s environmental movement gain momentum in the book and to imagine the same sorts of movements succeeding in real life all over this continent. If Not Us is a story that recognizes both the power of mass movements, as well as the importance of individual participation. Just like Hesse who comes to find his personal stake in the movement – the power station that is polluting his air and the rising sea levels that might destroy his coastal town – Mark Smith asks the reader to find their own personal reason to join the fight. If not us, then who will?

For ages 14+.


Joe Murray is from Readings Kids.

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