Cover Image: If Not Us

If Not Us

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Member Reviews

If Not Us by Mark Smith has written another suberb YA novel. Set in along the Victorian coast issues of climate change take hold and the issues is explored in a very dramatic and effective way via a seventeen year old local, Hesse, and an international exchange student from the Netherlands, Fenna. The local area has a mine that is up for sale and the opportunity to have it closed down is taken up by local conservationists and climate change activists is taken up. Hesse finds himself embroiled in the issue and with the help of Fenna he talks at a local meeting which Fenna films on her phone and uploads to her friends overseas. The video goes viral and becomes a big news item. 

The plot gets twist and turns which keeps it interesting as well as believable characters with realistic tensions. The environmental, climate change and bullying issues are cleverly presented.

Like Mark Smith’s Winter trilogy this is superbly written and is also a highly recommended read for all ages.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from Text Publishing via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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I am always on the lookout for YA titles with strong male characters, and I am happy to say that I found one with this book.

Hesse is a teenager who lives in a small town, where in the background, a mine and Power Station have always been there in the background...employing a large number of people from the town.  When he starts to question the environmental impact of these industries, he feels he needs to use his voice and speak up for what he believes is the right thing.

This would be a great book to look at in schools, as it encourages discussion about climate change, environmental issues and values.  Is it right to close down an industry that is causing damage to the environment, knowing that people will lose their jobs and  the whole town may suffer the consequences?  What is more important?  The planet and our health? Or industry, jobs and the livelihoods of those who work in the town?

It's not all environmental issues and protests, there's friendship, family and romance as well, so it makes for a very well rounded read.
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I'm giving this an extra star for bucking the trend and being a book about a very ordinary teenage boy. Books about these people who populate the high schools of every land, are very badly served with books at the moment. Thank goodness for Mark Smith and Scot Gardner and Mary-Anne Scott, the only people I seem to be able to rely upon to write for this group. It is quite irritating and they are a large section of the population and publishers and writers in general seem to have decided that they do not need new books to read. So, as far as I'm concerned I'll give this the full 5 stars to up it's ratings and encourage Mark Smith and the wonderful Text publishing to keep them coming.

This is Hesse's story. He is a surfer, Mark Smith loves a surfer, he is a caring and considerate young man. He lives in a beach town which has a coal fired power station as the major employer and polluter in town. It is an uncomfortable fit. In a town which prides itself on it's glorious beaches and surf, they have this horrible pollution situation hanging over their heads. Hesse's mum is out to do something about it and Hesse gets drawn into the activism. This makes for awkwardness with his mates whose families rely on the business for livelihoods.

Then Hesse meets Fenna, an exchange student. She's sad and isolated and he is a born rescuer. Before he knows what's happening he and Fenna are developing a deep friendship which slowly blossoms. There is a lot going on relationships wise, there is bullying, and drama and some downright dodgy behaviour amongst the people of the town. As the story moves along we get lots of little side notes and stories. A fantastic way of keeping the interest up and moving the story forward.

Mark Smith writes books for teenage boys, reluctant readers, and those who love to surf. If you've got teenagers in your library please buy this book. Read it and then sell it to them. I can instantly think of about six students in my old school who'd love this.

As a side note, please can we have a bunch of books like this. We talk about how we want to engage teens with reading, but we can't engage them if there are no new books for them to read.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and Text publishing for giving me access to this treat.
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‘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 Smiths 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
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Seventeen-year-old Hesse lived with his mum, Imogen in the small coastal town of Shelbourne in Victoria, where school, surfing and his weekend job at the local surf shop took up his time. When Hesse met seventeen-year-old Fenna, an exchange student from the Netherlands, he wasn’t to know how much she would influence his life. Teaching her to surf, walking along the beach and doing homework together, the two teenagers didn’t have time or thoughts for much else. Until Imogen, a dedicated member of the local environmental group which had been working for the past five years to have the local mine and power station closed down, asked Hesse if he would be involved in the meeting which was coming up. Hesse’s mum asked him to do a speech, to put across the thoughts of young people on climate change.

The hall was packed, including with mine workers and hecklers. The first two speakers were listened to, then it was Hesse’s turn. He was incredibly nervous – would he mess it up? But when Fenna videoed the meeting, the chanting of the crowd including the voices of the hecklers, Hesse was shocked the following morning to see the video had gone viral and he was being touted as a local hero. Shelbourne was on the map! But what would be the outcome of all the publicity? Hesse just wanted to get back to the surf with Fenna…

If Not Us is a standalone YA novel by Aussie author Mark Smith, set in coastal Victoria amid the strength of climate change, protests and two sides of the story. I loved the Winter trilogy by Smith, and If Not Us didn’t disappoint. Great characters – Hesse was well written, a perfect teen, while Fenna’s character was faultless. I have no hesitation in recommending If Not Us, as well as the Winter trilogy – highly.

With thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.
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“What do you think you’re going to change in Shelbourne on the weekend, Hesse? Nothing—that’s what. I wish you luck, I really do, but Hadron will crush your little group of activists and turn the whole town against you. You’re going to make enemies you don’t even know exist.”

If Not Us is the fourth novel by award-winning Australian author, Mark Smith. Just like many surf-mad kids his age, seventeen-year-old Hesse Templeton is somewhat oblivious to anything that doesn’t immediately impact on his daily life, and that includes climate change. 

But recently, that’s what his attention has been drawn to: an essay for English class on the topic, then a gathering that his mother, Imogen hosts for the Shelbourne Action group, heightens his awareness to something virtually on his doorstep: the Hadron coal mine and power plant.

When Shelbourne Action hears that Hadron is trying to quietly sell off one of the dirtiest and most polluting power stations in the country, they can’t ignore the opportunity to try to shut it down. But what can a small-town environment group do against a multi-national? 

The group’s high-flying Melbourne lawyer advocates getting the attention of banks and shareholders via social media. Hesse is rather alarmed to find he has agreed to speak at the coming town forum, but if it raises his standing in the eyes of recently arrived, pretty Dutch exchange student, Fenna De Vries, he’s willing to give it a go.

They are all mindful, though, of Hadron’s status in the town: the parents of several of his classmates, including his best friend, are employed by the company, and Hadron has a long history of supporting the town’s many sports and social clubs and organisations. 

Smith’s depiction of a coastal Victorian town is perfect: the vibe of the place, the mindset of the townspeople, the dialogue, all feel so authentic, you’d think he lived in one 😉. There’s humour and drama, a bit of romance, and the social media event is an utter delight. 

It’s very clear that Mark Smith has an intimate knowledge of surfing from passages like: “The peak was a little to his left so he paddled into position and put in half a dozen strong strokes, feeling the familiar surge as the wave lifted under him. He popped to his feet, took the little drop, pulled a fast bottom turn then milked the wall until it closed out on the shore break. The ride lasted no more than ten seconds, but it was a release, something so instinctive he hardly realised he was doing it”   

Smith’s latest work is topical and relevant and it champions youth involvement in the important issues facing today’s society. It may be aimed at YA readers, but will appeal to a much wider range. This might be Mark Smith’s best yet!
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Text Publishing.
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If Not Us is a standalone novel from the author of the Winter series. Mark Smith creates in If Not Us a story of growing up, falling in love and finding your voice to speak up and be heard. With themes of climate change action, grief, and first love, If Not Us is a relatable novel for teens with an authentic male narrator.

Hesse lives to surf. He works in a surf shop and spends his free time in the waves. His goal is to one day surf the reef called Razors, where his father disappeared at sea and died. When Hesse gets involved in his mother’s environmental group campaign to close a local coal mine and power station, Hesse is thrown into the spotlight. It means taking a stand and his voice becoming the key to the campaign. It also means standing against his friends, whose parents might lose their jobs if the mine is shut down. In the midst of it all, Hesse meets Fenna, an exchange student who is dealing with her own anxiety and decisions about whether to stay in Australia or return home. As the campaign heats up and Hesse’s feelings for Fenna deepen, Hesse has to decide what is most important to him.

The environmental argument is front and centre in this book, and I kind of enjoyed that it was so open, no covert or hidden messages - just a boy concerned about his world and taking a stand for what he believes in. There is no doubting his message or beliefs - that isn’t part of the story, but the impact on him, his friends and family members and the cost of speaking out is highlighted. 

The other main part of this story is Hesse’s relationship with Fenna. Things progress very quickly, but in a stop and start manner. Fenna’s anxiety is normalised and Hesse and others in the book are totally supportive. 

Pop culture, social media, bullying, videos going viral, young love and even a car chase and some suspense at the end, make If Not Us an easy and quick book to read and enjoy. I am sure my teen readers of all genders and interests will be able to relate to such a hot topic book. 

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
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A small town fighting a giant battle. This is a strong story of community,  friendship and the power of what is right. This will be a fantastic book for high school students not only does it touch on many important current topics but it also has a realistic love -  relationship thread and of course the location and the surfing will be extremely popular.
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