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!