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America Pacifica


America Pacifica

It's the future. Eighteen-year-old Darcy lives on the island called America Pacifica where the masses huddle in misery, except for a few higher-class citizens chosen by the island's dictator, Tyson. Darcy lives with her mother, Sarah, who works brutal hours as a pearl diver. Sarah once lived on the mainland of North America before the ice age made it uninhabitable and forced the exodus that landed her and so many others on the island. She was just 10 years old when she arrived on the first boat to the island. To her daughter, Sarah often seems distant and child-like, but she is Darcy's sole source of comfort in a desolate existence. Even though the two spend all of their scant free time together, Sarah never wants to talk about those long-ago times on the mainland. Instead, she gives Darcy just one piece of advice: "Don't get stuck in the past."

Darcy's life has been relatively simple. She attended school for a few years and now mixes the ubiquitous jellyfish powder into "food" at the World Experiences Mature Community. Here, a high point is figuring out how to steal the steak they serve the residents approximately once a year. Generally, "meat" is concocted from jellyfish and beef flavoring, so when genuine beef is on the menu, it's a noteworthy event.

Then trouble enters Darcy's life, in the form of a visitor to their apartment. It's a woman with trembling hands, sallow skin and slightly odd clothing. The stranger claims to be a friend of Sarah's, although Darcy knows that can't be true. Her mother has no friends; they only have each other. But when Sarah enters the room, Darcy sees that she is not that surprised to see her. Sarah asks to speak to the woman alone, and so Darcy leaves their apartment, although she tries listening through the cheap door, composed of flimsy Seaboard. She can't hear everything they say, but she hears enough to realize that they seem to be planning some kind of action.

The mystery continues after the stranger leaves and Darcy returns to the apartment. When Darcy quizzes her mother, Sarah says the woman is crazy. She admits she knew her when she was young, but claims the woman is trying to get Sarah to give her money for a pyramid get-rich-quick scheme. Darcy has heard enough while eavesdropping to realize her mother is not telling her the entire story, but she also knows her mother well enough to know that she has said all she plans to disclose.

The next day, Darcy is on the bus commuting through the dreary streets to her job. A fellow passenger shows her a copy of the latest news flyer. The headlines announce that the island's guards have thwarted yet another attack from Hawaiians. Dictator Tyson's column reminds the islanders that the "Hawaiian threat" remains something that must be guarded against. The other passenger tells Darcy this means, as the Board elections loom, that the incumbents will emphasize island defense, and points out that no matter who anyone votes for, Tyson's people somehow win each election. Meanwhile, conditions for those who aren't Tyson's friends continue to worsen.

That evening, Darcy waits for her mother to return home from her job. The hours tick by, and Sarah doesn't come back, and is still not there in the morning. Darcy should go to her job, but she must find her mother. Her first step on a quest that will take her far from her everyday life begins at the docks with Persephone Pearls, the business Sarah dives for.

AMERICA PACIFICA is a gripping page-turner (How much of a page-turner? I gobbled it down in two sittings.) Darcy's mission to find her mother adds urgency and mystery to a post-apocalyptic tale that nearly rivals Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD for bleak despondency. Although this tale is harrowing, it also offers a tenuous, not-too-tidy, redemptive climax.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on May 18, 2011

America Pacifica
by Anna North

  • Publication Date: June 12, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Reagan Arthur / Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316105074
  • ISBN-13: 9780316105071