Review: America Pacifica

Review: America PacificaAmerica Pacifica by Anna North
Published by Little, Brown & Company on May 1, 2011
Genres: Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Pages: 294
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Eighteen-year-old Darcy lives on the island of America Pacifica, —one of the last places on earth that is still habitable, after North America has succumbed to a second ice age. Education, food, and basic means of survival are the province of a chosen few, while the majority of the island residents must struggle to stay alive. The rich live in "Manhattanville" mansions made from the last pieces of wood and stone, while the poor cower in the shantytown slums of "Hell City" and "Little Los Angeles," places built out of heaped up trash that is slowly crumbling into the sea. The island is ruled by a mysterious dictator named Tyson, whose regime is plagued by charges of corruption and conspiracy.

But to Darcy, America Pacifica is simply home, —the only one she's ever known. In spite of their poverty she lives contentedly with her mother, who works as a pearl diver. It's only when her mother doesn't come home one night that Darcy begins to learn about her past as a former "Mainlander," and her mother's role in the flight from frozen California to America Pacifica. Darcy embarks on a quest to find her mother, navigating the dark underbelly of the island, learning along the way the disturbing truth of Pacifica's early history, the far-reaching influence of its egomaniacal leader, and the possible plot to murder some of the island's first inhabitants—including her mother.

I almost gave up on America Pacifica in the first chapter, which is unusual for me. I generally try to stick it out, which obviously I did, but I came so close to writing this book off (punned). The reason I did not is because of my dystopia obsession; I knew that, should I give up on it now, I would end up reading it later anyway. For the record, I am glad that I finished the book, and not just because I would have read it eventually.

Still, I did not love this one. It’s a hard read, both because it’s slow or confusing at times and because it’s disgusting. Allow me to elaborate as best I can on the latter point. When I say disgusting, I don’t mean gory or foul-mouthed, although there is a little bit of both. It’s more that almost everything and everyone is dirty and living in filth and eating things people really shouldn’t eat to the point that it made me uncomfortable. It was hard to read about it, even more so because I know people really do live like Darcy and her mother.

The dystopian society depicted here definitely feels real and terrifying and a sight different than the rather sweeter versions in most of the YA stories. Anna North was obviously inspired by the darkness in 1984 and Brave New World, not just trying to write a dystopia because people like me will read it purely for the label. However, North did not do a good job explaining how the society came about. The results are clear, but, so far as I noticed, there was no description as to what precipitated the massive environmental changes that lead to America Pacifica. Explaining how it came about is pretty crucial in a dystopia, especially one that’s not liable to have a sequel, as that is not often done in adult dystopias and as it has the usual dystopia ending where it’s not entirely clear what happened.

I also took minor issue with some of the basic ways this society functions. For example, what’s with the jellyfish. I get that you can’t eat food from near the island because of the solvent, but are there no fish further out? There must be. The solvent, too, is curious to me, because it is used as an energy source, a replacement for gasoline, but people also use it as a drug. Wouldn’t something like gasoline kill these people? Then there’s their diet, in general. Most of the poor folks get nothing but the jellyfish and cheesefood (whatever that is). There are mentions of life on the continent before the establishment of Pacifica, which include the fact that tons of people got scurvy. Why is this not happening on the island? Is it because they get the very occasional mango? Or is it because they get carried off by the strange parrot’s disease first? And finally, nuns that use parrots to speak for them? Lol whut?

Regardless of all of my questions/concerns, America Pacifica did turn out to be an interesting and thought-provoking read. Oh, and, for those who haven’t noticed, the cover is upside down. It took me a while to notice myself. The cover has nothing to do with anything in the book, but it is pretty and upside down.

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