When We Hold Each Other Up is a very fascinating take on pacifist resistance in a post-eco-apocalypse world. After the climate wars, people either live in cities run by Harmonizers (some strange more-than-human people who are able to “balance” the world by taking and giving calories, among other things) or in little solarpunk communities who try to live in balance with nature in their own little ways.
The story starts with Rowan, a young person lives in a small community when a Harmonizer arrives at their orchard and feeds on it, leaving ruin in his wake. Though the others are distrustful of him and leave him to die, Rowan decides to save him—because, like in the stories, we survive when we hold each other up. Truly, this is one of the core themes of the book, trying to find compromise and help those who may not seem the most deserving of it.
The Harmonizer is in fact a dissenter who has come to help them against other Harmonizers. The city seems to be going on the wrong path again, losing its balance, instead trying to mindlessly grow and destroy nature like the cities of old. Rowan and the Harmonizer must warn the nearby villages and see what they can do to help.
There’s more to it and it goes places I thought were quite interesting. There’s a big focus on the telling of stories and the way they help us understand and survive in this world. You’ll come to adore the two protagonists and their little communities. Above all, what I respected in this novella is the fully-realized, authentic feeling solarpunk wordbuilding. In most books, this either feels too forced or too vague. Take Becky Chambers’ Monk and Robot books, for example. They are books I love, but everyone calls them some of the great current solarpunk novellas while I always felt like solarpunk was only used as a background—here, it’s the very core.
If there’s one small nitpick, I thought the ending was very rushed. You have a story with perfect pacing, and suddenly it speeds up massively and conveniently wraps stuff up in a way that felt like there was much more story to tell. While I enjoyed the ending, I would’ve preferred to see a more fleshed out ending.
But I really liked this book. It had shades of the Earthseed books, for me. Phoebe Wagner has long been a prominent voice in the solarpunk community, and this book shows that. A voice to keep an eye on.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.