In Anna North‘s gritty dystopian, America Pacifica, eighteen-year-old Darcy lives with her mother on an island of the same name. It’s presumed to be one of the few inhabitable places to live after mainland America has entered a second ice age. The island was the brainchild of a legend named Tyson, who gathered up the first pilgrims from mainland America to restart society in a place where they could go outside again and not freeze to death.
Darcy knows little about America because her mother is sparse with the details of her past. All Darcy really knows is that her mother once lived in a co-op in Seattle before boarding a boat to America Pacifica and that her father is dead. When her mother doesn’t come home from work one night, Darcy sets out on a quest to find her, stopping at nothing and no one to get the answers she seeks. The problem is, for Darcy’s entire life, her mother has been the center of her universe, making her emotionally and socially dependent on her. This leaves Darcy ill-prepared to go out into the grimy, sleaze filled world and also the clean, privileged world of those who knew her mother in the time before the island.
Like all the characters North introduces to us, Darcy is hard to get to know, but that makes sense because she doesn’t know who to trust and thus, keeps us all at a safe observant distance while we get to fully know how hard life on America Pacifica is. Like Darcy, we don’t want to stick around long enough to get to know any of the people she meets along the way to finding out what’s happened to her mother. Everyone wants something, she concludes, and information doesn’t come free.
North is a strong world builder. She immerses us in that post-mainland-apocalypse island with all its horrendous, reeking garbage; its filth and oppressive heat; its cobbled-together poor areas forever caving in because they’re made of something called Seaboard and not real building materials; the desperation and constant sour sweat of the majority of poor islanders who go hungry too often and too dirty all the time. The few who are in charge are so over-the-top privileged, they take for granted things like meat, air conditioning, and real fiber clothing. We feel and smell it all and it makes us root that much harder for Darcy to find her mysterious mother.
The one issue I had with America Pacifica was a sudden turn the story took during the last part of the book. North doesn’t make clear how or why Darcy becomes a person of legend, like Tyson but the opposite in that she stands for the poor instead of the rich. But I’m willing to overlook that in the hopes that North will write a sequel to America Pacifica so we can find out just what becomes of Darcy, the island, and the frozen mainland America she hopes to find after finally learning the fate of her mother.