The Free People's Village
by Sim Kern
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Pub Date 12 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 22 Aug 2023
From environmental journalist Sim Kern, comes the eat-the-rich climate fiction you won't want to put down:
In an alternate 2020 timeline, Al Gore won the 2000 election and declared a War on Climate Change rather than a War on Terror. For twenty years, Democrats have controlled all three branches of government, enacting carbon-cutting schemes that never made it to a vote in our world. Green infrastructure projects have transformed U.S. cities into lush paradises (for the wealthy, white neighborhoods, at least), and the Bureau of Carbon Regulation levies carbon taxes on every financial transaction.
English teacher by day, Maddie Ryan spends her nights and weekends as the rhythm guitarist of Bunny Bloodlust, a queer punk band living in a warehouse-turned-venue called “The Lab” in Houston’s Eighth Ward. When Maddie learns that the Eighth Ward is to be sacrificed for a new electromagnetic hyperway out to the wealthy, white suburbs, she joins “Save the Eighth,” a Black-led organizing movement fighting for the neighborhood. At first, she’s only focused on keeping her band together and getting closer to Red, their reckless and enigmatic lead guitarist. But working with Save the Eighth forces Maddie to reckon with the harm she has already done to the neighborhood—both as a resident of the gentrifying Lab and as a white teacher in a predominantly Black school.
When police respond to Save the Eighth protests with violence, the Lab becomes the epicenter of “The Free People’s Village”—an occupation that promises to be the birthplace of an anti-capitalist revolution. As the movement spreads across the U.S., Maddie dreams of a queer, liberated future with Red. But the Village is beset on all sides—by infighting, police brutality, corporate-owned media, and rising ecofascism. Maddie’s found family is increasingly at risk from state violence, and she must decide if she’s willing to sacrifice everything in pursuit of justice.
"Full of furious kindness, radical community, passionate politics, and authentic friendships, The Free People's Village is a sharply-written paean to hope, set in a vivid, brilliantly imagined future that alternately filled me with loathing and yearning. From the carefully crafted timelines to the intensely real characters, this was a story that yanked me into its world and didn't let me surface for hours. You live because you still can, and you organize because you still can, and you fight because you still can."
– Premee Mohamed, Nebula Award-winning author of And What Can We Offer You Tonight
“A thought-provoking, exciting ride. The Free People's Village is a mesmerizing portrait of revolutions — the internal ones that call us to find and fight for the best versions of ourselves; the external that consume, invigorate, and demand as they explore paths to justice.
Grounded in an imaginative landscape and rounded out by an inclusive, complex cast, this novel masterfully explores identity, morality, and the choices we make as vehicles that hold radical power in the quest for liberation. More than a love letter to Houston, its bayous, and people forgotten and remembered, Sim Kern's world sings with possibility, hope, and joy that will leave you laughing--and crying — -long after the last bomb has dropped." —
Ehigbor Okosun, author of Forged by Blood
"Beautiful, brilliant, and unflinching, The Free People's Village will both inspire you and devour you...in the best possible way." — Nicky Drayden, author of Escaping Exodus and The Prey of Gods
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 103 members
dystopian adult science fiction, set in an alternate 2020 where Al Gore won the Presidential Election, and blows full steam ahead to the war on climate change, charging a carbon tax for almost everything
first-person perspective of Maddie
Maddie has left behind a toxic, abusive marriage to a Catholic man and is reckoning with and questioning her religious identity now too
She works as an English teacher during the day, and goes to a punk space called The Lab at nights
Maddie joins a band, Bunny Bloodlust, meets new people (Red, Gestas, Fish), and begins to examine her own privilege and complacency in white supremacy
She joins a Black-led movement/occupation protest to save the Eighth Ward, the primarily Black neighborhood that the Lab is in
Maddie goes from extremely religious (as a way to rebel from her parents surprisingly) to being part of an anarchistic revolution, and unpacking her place in the world!
themes and topics covered: race, religion/shame, white saviorism, gender, sexual orientation, climate change, drug abuse, gentrification
check the content warnings I've noted below!
Maddie was a great main character to follow! She was representative of white saviorism, white guilt and white liberalism all in one, yet Sim still fleshed Maddie out, and let her make mistakes (like it was extremely cringe sometimes hahaha), take accountability for them, and try to do better in the future. I think more people need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, with knowing they are going to fuck up, and practicing taking accountability in saying "I didn't know that" or "I should have known better, and I will be more mindful in the future".
Maddie's path to becoming an ally and fighting for justice is full of relatable conversations with her new found family, and I think most people will feel seen by both the defensiveness and naivety displayed at times, as well as the genuine yearning to be better. I firmly believe Maddie is a great main character for people who are new to learning these concepts (abolition theory, mutual aid, anti-racism, intersectional feminism, etc) to follow, as we see that Maddie is not perfect, but she is given the space to be brave, and to try again.
I loved how Gestas recommended books to Maddie for her existential journey to "becoming an ally 101": Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur, Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis, Black Marxism by J. Robinson, and a few more. The scene where these book recommendations happen is definitely one of my favorites. I appreciated how the discussion played out between Gestas & Maddie, and even though Maddie fumbled a lot (as Maddie does), I felt like this was a helpful way to outline the ideas of equity and social justice for people who are possibly reading about this for the first time!
Overall, this book felt like a call to action, and a reminder to keep putting in the work, even if you don't see the fruits of your labor *right now*, it's still worth it, and the community/revolution still needs you to keep planting seeds! I loved the ending chapter with the metaphors of the mushrooms, and felt hopeful and inspired by the end of it.
This is the first book I've read by Sim, but I'm excited to check out more of their work!
In an alternate 2020, where Al Gore won the election and declared a War on Climate Change, Sim Kern's "The Free People's Village" presents a powerful narrative set in a transformed world that is no less bleak than our own. Maddie Ryan, an English teacher and a member of a queer punk band, becomes involved in "Save the Eighth," a Black-led movement fighting against gentrification and racial inequalities in Houston's Eighth Ward.
"The Free People's Village" is an extraordinary and transformative book that left a lasting impact on my perspective. This book will live in my brain for years to come. Sim Kern skillfully navigates themes of activism, racial injustice, and the complexities of life in a capitalist society. This powerful narrative delves deep into issues that may be difficult for readers to confront, but it is precisely why every white-cis ally, and indeed everyone, should read this book. The emotional depth of the characters and their relationships is profound. It fearlessly explores shame, white guilt, and the resilience of marginalized communities against overwhelming forces. Through heart-wrenching scenes and thought-provoking discussions, the novel encourages readers to confront uncomfortable truths about our society.
Despite its challenging themes, "The Free People's Village" offers hope and a reminder that even amidst darkness, there is worth in seeking a better world despite overwhelming odds. It emphasizes the importance of showing up for others and using our privilege to uplift those who have less. This book is a rallying cry for change, a call to action, and a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. "The Free People's Village" is a must-read for those seeking a deeper understanding of the struggles faced by marginalized communities and a renewed commitment to fight for a more just and equitable world.
Thank you to Netgalley and Levine Querido for the eARC. Thank you to Sim Kern for writing this important and visceral novel; I sobbed like a baby.
I loved this one. Total punk rock, anarchy and timely! It reminded me of my punk rock days in the early 80's in Seattle. Great characters, story and author!
This book was really something. Honestly I don't really know how to review this, I've been staring at my screen and I don't know how to summarize the best what I felt reading the book. The book made me feel hopeless, but also gave me hope. This book made me feel empowered, but also weak and small. I laughed about jokes but also gave me high moments of tension. And it made me feel happy while I still sobbed towards the end.
This book gave me a huge range of emotions, more than what I'm used from books and that is partially why this book is such an experience.
This book is all about activism and gave me a whole new perspective on the way that operates and happens. It shows all of the struggles and all of the amazing moments it can bring when things go right. (hence me mentioning feeling both hopeful and hopeless). I don't do a lot of physical activism myself as because of my disabilities I can't leave the house much, so it was great to be able to attend protests through the book while I can't in real life. But that doesn't mean that all protests in the book were all happy and great, because they are definitely not, just like they can be in real life. And I feel this book really showed the truths that all come with it.
I also want to talk about the fictional?? world this takes place in. It is not our current version of earth so I guess that would make it fictional, but it is close in a way it easily could've been, or it's our future coming. And it's the way that it's so close to our earth, that when you're reading you don't realize it is not completely accurate. The way this was done in the book was extremely skillful and made the book an even better experience than if it would've been in the real world.
A big part of this book is all the connections the main character has with her loved ones (and less loved ones) around her. Each relationship felt totally unique and had their own struggles. I enjoyed it so so much when people were being happy together, and it made me cry very easily if things were not. I happened to care for everyone in the book in the span of the first few chapters. And then when things went down bad as always happens in books... I was a crying mess just hugging my pillow. It was intense, but the right kind of intense, full of emotions from a great book.
I will be thinking on this book for a bit longer I know for sure. And I would highly recommend for others to read this too and join me.
Wow. This book. So far, it's my favorite read of 2023. I'm not surprised how many people who got an ARC said they binge-read it until early in the morning, finishing it with a good cry. I wish I had had the time to read it all in one go, too. It was hard to put down: every chapter grabbed and pulled me through, I loved Maddie and all the varied personalities that surrounded her, and of course I became invested in their Free People's Village.
This alternate timeline Kern has designed is fascinating. Kern tackles so many huge topics and questions, turning them inside out, all while having me enthralled by the personal journey of Maddie, and Red, and the yearning that had me flip-flopping between excitement, nail-biting, pain, and hope. Don't hesitate to pick up The Free People's Village when it comes out this September 12th.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to NetGalley, Sim Kern, and Levine Querido for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
For 2023, I’ll be using this rating scale:
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I mourned the ending of this journey
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ really enjoyed and would recommend
⭐️⭐️⭐️ it was fine
⭐️⭐️ I didn’t enjoy this journey
⭐️ I dnf’d or wish I’d dnf’d
🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️ this is smutty smutty erotica 🥵
🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️ medium burn
🌶️🌶️🌶️ slow burn
🌶️🌶️ romantic b plot / closed door / YA romance
🌶️ no romance / nonfiction