Born on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific, 18-year-old Darcy Pern has never known life beyond America Pacifica. She’s heard about an ice age that overtook most of the United States. She knows her mother, Sarah, was one of the first Americans to arrive on the island, which is ruled by a mysterious man named Tyson. And she knows that Sarah, ever dependable, would never abandon her. Would never not come home to their damp, private apartment.
Until she disappears.
Left to her own (weak) devices, Darcy must work to find her mother amidst the decaying world she calls home — and in the process, unravel the frightening mysteries surrounding America Pacifica’s founding . . . and a plan that will change the Perns’ lives forever.
Anna North’s America Pacifica is a grim, imaginative but ultimately sad novel set in a dystopian world in which the United States has been reduced to an island teeming with filth, waste and suffering. The past — the happy American land of plenty we know — is nothing but a tattered memory in the minds of the elderly. Though Darcy is resourceful, she’s decimated after her mother’s disappearance — and I could feel the panic, bewilderment and fear seeping through the pages.
In fact, that’s how I felt about this one: panicky, bewildered and fearful.
The bleak tone of the novel never picks up, never gets better, never changes pitch. Everything is gritty, grisly and grim. The warm, tropical setting of the island is in sharp contrast to the mountainous icebergs we’re told cover most of the U.S. these days, but even the heat can’t save its inhabitants from misery. Poverty is the norm; food is scarce, disgusting and strange. When America Pacifica’s residents aren’t getting high on solvent, a concoction made from seawater to power the island, they’re hurting one another or desperately trying not to be hurt.
It’s a bleak place.
But you know, this book was compelling. It tied my stomach up in knots and left me feeling achy and tired and I didn’t want to read it before bed — that’s for sure — but North’s imagery, world-building and command of tone is to be admired. Her prose is beautiful. Through her vivid and often disturbing descriptions, I could taste the briny air and feel the itchy fabric of Seafiber shirts. The omnipresent danger of Little Los Angeles encompassed me like a cloak. A sense of foreboding — from start to finish — never left me in America Pacifica, and I’d say that’s an accomplishment.
But at the end of the day, did I like this book? No, I don’t think I did. It was too seedy — too bothersome, too sad — for me to enjoy. Though I read quickly and worried for Darcy, I didn’t find myself emotionally invested in the plot. And the ending? Well, many have discussed its ambiguous nature . . . but as I was discussing with Meg, I’m starting to see it as concrete. Final. Not all together unexpected, but most definitely depressing.
Readers interested in dystopian fiction might be intrigued by North’s interpretation of an America gone cold and rebuilt in a tropical locale, but I struggled to stick with a book that felt like a slog because of the bleak subject matter. North’s lovely writing kept me reading and interested in her fast-paced story, but the novel itself was disheartening. Be prepared for a vivid — but grisly — read.
3 out of 5!
ISBN: 0316105120 ♥ Goodreads ♥ LibraryThing ♥ Amazon ♥ Author Website
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine
13 thoughts on “Book review: ‘America Pacifica’ by Anna North”
Just wanted to drop you a little note to let you know how delighted I was to come across your fantastic blog this morning,I shalll follow eagerly …really pleased to meet you Meg..Eliza Keating
Thank you, Eliza — I appreciate the visit and hope to see you around again soon! 🙂
I do love dystopia and this sounds like a great book, indeed! I think it’s really good that the book made you uncomfortable, I mean, it must have been impacting on you in some way, which better than a mwah, so-so book.
Seems good to me! 🙂
Very true, Judith — it definitely had an impact on me and made me feel something, even if that “something” was discomfort! If you get a chance, give it a shot and let me know what you think. There’s so much to discuss with America Pacifica, that’s for sure.
I’m still thinking about this book even after a week later. The writing was definitely good and I would read something else by North if she writes anything else but I like feeling more than one feeling whenever I read a book. I don’t necessarily need to feel positive, happy feelings while reading but this book was just grim on top of grim on top of grim.
I agree, Meg — we never got a respite. I don’t have to have a prancing-princesses-happy-happy-joy story, either, but the overall tone never let up and made me feel so gloomy. But yes, North’s writing was awesome — I would certainly read something else by her!
I started this one, but it ended up being a DNF very early on. I don’t remember why exactly but I think it must have been the “gritty, grisly, grim” aspects!
Very likely, Jill — the “gritty, grisly and grim” bits were very hard to get through. I’m a very easily persuaded reader, too . . . the more dystopian I read, the more I think, “Hey, that could happen!” and just freak myself out. America Pacifica was a tough read for me.
I typically like dystopia, but I think I’d have to be in just the right mood for this one — sort of like The Road. Great review, Meg!
Hm, I think I’ll have to be in the right mood to tackle this book.
Not being a big fan of dystopia (and then this one sounds particularly harsh) I think I’ll be giving this one a big old pass. Thanks for the heads-up. I might have tried this one.
I have found that books like this are best read with others in a classroom where some discussion and structure makes the bleak subject matter somehow less disturbing. Still, I do tend to enjoy reading books like these even though they can be incredibly difficult to read. I enjoy them because when I walk away from them, I am left thinking about them for many days if not weeks afterward. Even more, I find that good dystopian lit requires really good writing and I am always trying to read more in hopes of channeling my favorite authors.
I can understand why this one was difficult, but it sounds incredibly intriguing to me. I’ve long enjoyed Anna’s writing on Jezebel, and I’m eager to read how she takes to fiction. I’m glad to know it’s a bleak novel, however, because the cover led me to believe it was the tale of a lush, beautiful, dystopian place perfect for a summer getaway.
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