Book Review: America Pacifica by Anna North

April 18, 2011 Books, Reading, Reviews 3

America Pacifica by Anna North
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
Published by Hachette Digital, Inc. on 2011-05-18
Pages: 304
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I had to chew on this book a while before I could write this review. It is without question very well-written, a literary dystopian novel with an intriguing setting and a strong protagonist. However, the plot seems to stumble a bit right when it should be cresting.

We do not see many characters in great depth. The reader lives in Darcy’s head, and Darcy doesn’t let herself get close to anyone. People you think you should trust turn out to be less than trustworthy, and really, it’s a good thing that Darcy doesn’t let anyone close. Despite the fact that we never learn much about the supporting characters, Darcy proves to be an unusually perceptive character. Through her point of view, we see portraits of these characters that are roughly painted, but are at the same time strangely realistic. Ansel’s fanaticism, Nathaniel’s bitterness, Marie’s complexity… we see hints of all of this, but we can never really trust that Darcy’s perception of these people is true.

Darcy is also revealed to us in sketches. She thinks of herself and her life in interludes, and we learn how she and her mother had built their own world populated only by themselves, and we see how Darcy’s world falls apart when her mother disappears, and how she has to learn to navigate the corrupt streets of the island to try to find the one person who matters. By the end, Darcy is still searching for something. The book doesn’t feel so much like a journey of discovery for the character, though she does learn about herself. It feels more like a passing glimpse at Darcy’s life, from the past her mother always told her to forget into the unknowable future.

The dystopia itself–the island nation created when North America collapsed under the weight of a new ice age–is pretty standard as dystopias go. The elite and the non-elite are sharply defined in a created world that balances on apathy. Most of the people don’t care enough to really look at their world, and so the rich go on eating real meat while the poor scrape by on jellyfish, cheese food, and drugs. What makes this dystopia stand out, though, are North’s rich descriptions of the island. Most of the book takes place within the poor areas: Little Los Angeles, Hell City, the sad facsimile of the Vegas strip, and the utter desperation of the people in these areas is almost palpable, it’s so well-described. The nicer areas that Darcy ventures into seem almost surreal; Darcy is shocked by the smell of cleanness, by the oblivious wastefulness of the privileged. North’s descriptions and world-building are very effective.

The plot itself starts out simply and grows in complexity. Darcy’s mother goes missing, and Darcy tries to find her. Along the way, she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy that goes back to before the island, before she was even born, when the mainland was icing over. It’s an intriguing plot, but I couldn’t help feeling a little let down when everything finally came to a head. As I said earlier, the plot stumbles a little bit, and the climax felt a bit like it came out of left field. The denouement trails off into a very ambiguous ending. I liked the ending–IMO, we American readers could use a little ambiguity every once in a while in the face of all these decisive endings we demand, hehe. But if you are someone who can’t handle an ambiguous ending, this book will frustrate you.

Overall, I would recommend America Pacifica to someone looking for a grown-up dystopia. The writing is excellent, and the portrayal of the poor underbelly of the dystopian society is very strong. It is definitely an engrossing story; I caught myself feeling extremely anxious a few times while reading, as the book had really sucked me in. I had to put it down and go hug my fiancé just to get my head out of the world a couple of times.