If Not Us by Mark Smith

‘Hesse slipped his board into the rack on the side of his bike and swept down the Russell Street Hill.’

Seventeen-year-old Hesse Templeton lives with his mother Imogen at Shelbourne, a small coastal town in Victoria. The town is dominated by an ageing coal-fired power station and a coal mine which are two of the town’s major employers. The power station is for sale. Some members of the community, increasingly concerned about the impact of climate change, would like to see both the coal mine and the power station closed.

Hesse’s mother, Imogen, is a member of the local environmental group lobbying for closure. Hesse’s major interest, outside his weekend work at the surf shop and keeping up with his schoolwork, is surfing (and dodging the town bully). That is until he meets Fenna de Vries, a new exchange student from The Netherlands. Along with his interest in Fenna, Hesse’s awareness of climate issues is growing.

‘He was writing an essay on climate change for English. The more research he’d done, the angrier he’d become.’

But as Hesse knows, closure of the mine and power station will lead to job losses. And those job losses will have a direct effect on some of his friends and their parents. Hesse is initially reluctant to get involved in the campaign but decides that he must make a stand. Fenna encourages him. A protest meeting is arranged, and Hesse agrees to speak:

‘My name’s Hesse, and I’m part of the generation that’s going to have to’—he stopped to clear his throat and swallow hard—to live with the effects of climate change.’

The town divides. Hadron, the owner of the power station has been a supporter of many activities in the town, and job losses loom. A brick is thrown through Imogen’s window, and Hesse is threatened with violence. But footage of the meeting (filmed by Fenna on her ‘phone) is shared to social media and goes viral. Suddenly the issue of the pollution caused by the Shelbourne coal mine and power station is no longer local.

This is a terrific YA novel which deals realistically with the local challenges of climate change. I can imagine how those locals employed by Hadron would feel, and I liked the way the teenagers made their feelings known. There’s a touch of romance as well, and humour, as well as evocative descriptions of surfing.

This is the first of Mr Smith’s novels I have read, and I’ll be seeking out his earlier novels.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AussieAuthor2021

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