Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

IMG_2076It is hard to believe that this book was published in 2012. The borders it crosses are at once of some imagined tomorrow and emphatically of now, now, now. Opening in a bleak near-future Vermont landscape, the novel introduces the reader to young Radley. She arrives home from a service trip to Haiti, only to find that the American People’s Party has won the election and is in power in the United States, and her parents have gone missing. After hunkering down for a while, terrorized, in her home, hiding from police who, she believes, are after her, she decides to head north.

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Just take a look at the concluding passage on this page–the escape to Canada, the metal guardrail, the relief of the crossing. It could be about border-crossings today, northward crossings we never thought we’d see in our time.

The realities of 2017 have at times had the effect of making me feel utterly useless. I’ve questioned whether there is anything to be gained by the work I do, even questioned my belief that somehow, in my small way, I can try to make the world a better place.

One could quibble that the plot in this book turns too easily, or that allies show up a little too readily, or even that Rad’s greatest loss is a touch predictable. But Karen Hesse‘s Safekeeping gave me a little jolt of something completely necessary and vitally important. A kind of sweetness, like that of the girl she writes about, hungry for human contact and learning to trust her own best instincts. It reminded me of the strange and mysterious power of fiction to speak to reality. And in the end, it’s the remarkable prescience in the storyline that kept me turning the pages.

 

It is Time to be Alarmed

Last week I went to see An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. I thought I’d be depressed. After all, I’ve seen the Al Gore charts in the original movie. I know the facts. I feel helpless to do anything about them.

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NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS imagery from NOAA’s Environmental Visualization Laboratory

But I watched this one with Houston and the Caribbean fresh in my mind, along with the uncomfortable awareness that while North American eyes were first on Texas and then on Florida, 45 million people were affected by floods in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India. And I felt a curious consolation that Gore, in his journey to understanding, somehow gets this global perspective. The image of the blue marble, Earth, made me think long and hard. When are we going to get beyond boundaries of nationality and language, politics and borders? What will it take to make us quit flag-waving and nationalistic jingoism? How many floods will it take? How much drought? How many climate change refugees?

Last year saw the publication of a nonfiction book about climate change for teens. In It’s Getting Hot in Here: The Past, Present and Future of Climate Change, Bridget Heos tackles the issue of global warming head-on for a teen audience. In a review of this title from last year, Publishers Weekly says:

Heos (Stronger than Silk) doesn’t mince words in this self-described “call to action,” as she clearly and effectively details the greenhouse effect, the ice ages and mass extinctions of Earth’s history, the scientific evidence behind climate change, the ways human activities contributes to it, and the politicization of the topic.

So there. Talk to your politicians. Talk to each other. Get the dirt on oil in your neighborhood and your community. Find out who’s blocking alternative energy. Find an environmental NGO to support. At the very least, go to the United Nations site and offset your carbon emissions for the last year. It is time to be alarmed.