Reviews /

Future Hopes: Hopeful Stories in a Time of Climate Change

Authored by Lauren James (editor)
Published by Walker Books Ltd

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I was excited by the premise of this anthology of short stories: we are living not only in a time of climate change, but also of climate anxiety, and children and young adults in particular are sorely in need of hopeful stories. The book’s editor Lauren James is a leading writer of YA eco-fiction (as is Nicola Davies, who has written the foreword to this collection) but here she has assembled a diverse group of other authors to tell their own stories of how we might live more sustainably in the future.

The stories offer a wide variety of sources of hope, but all are based on genuine scientific solutions, from geoengineering in Oisín McGann’s ‘Eyeballs, Tentacles and Teeth’ to rooftop farming in Tọlá Okogwu’s ‘Saving Olumide’. Importantly, however, in each case, scientific progress is only able to make a difference when coupled with human actions. This point is frequently underlined in the helpful editor’s notes after each story, in which James explains the science in a little more fully but also talks about small changes that readers can make in their own lives.

All the stories appear to be set in the future, and the authors deftly establish their settings with some concise and economical world-building to immerse in each new reality. One of my favourite stories was Neal and Brendan Shusterman’s ‘Dust Devil’, in which Zak is sent to a Juvenile Retention Centre to repay his carbon debt after an accidental house fire, offering a clever twist on many popular dystopian novels. Other stories use the conventions of different genres, including romance and even a story in comic-book form by Louie Stowell.

Although the stories they are hopeful, they are not overly utopian but are instead realistic about the compromises humans will need to make in the future, and the continued existence of factors like human greed. Another story I loved was Rebecca Lim’s ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Garden’ in which we see the toll that flooding has taken on a small coastal town in Australia, but also the way that the community has adapted to this and worked together to promote biodiversity. Meanwhile, ‘The Drongo’s Call’ by Bijal Vachharajani shows the effects of over-fertilization on traditional Indian farms, but again offers an alternative in the form of intercropping.

The stories seem cater to a variety of different ages: M. G. Leonard’s ‘Food of the Future’, about a sustainable cookery competition, and L. R. Lam’s ‘The Invisible Girl and the Impossible Otter’, about a school trip to Orkney, would be great to use in KS2; by contrast, ‘Float’ by Eli Brown feels much more suitable for a YA audience, both in terms of its complexity and the maturity of some its content (for instance, a glancing reference to recreational drug use). So, while some younger secondary readers might enjoy exploring the whole collection, it is most likely that teachers will want to choose individual stories to appeal to their classes: they would all lead to rich discussions with great potential for cross-curricular links. In addition to the editor’s notes on each story, James has also included discussion questions, advice on how to live more sustainably, suggested further reading and a glossary, all of which might aid teachers in deepening children’s exploration of the issues presented.

In her afterword, James writes that ‘even if it feels like we’re facing a time of disaster, there are so many bright and glorious possibilities for our future’. This is a book which is honest about the situation we are in now, whilst remaining optimistic for the future. It certainly helped me to imagine a more hopeful future, and I’m sure it will do the same for many young readers.