YA Weekend: Pacifica by Kristen Simmons
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Dystopian, Young Adult
Series: Book 1/Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Teen (March 6, 2018)
Length: 384 pages
I had high hopes for Pacifica, even more so after I read the author’s foreword and realized the story was in part inspired by the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II—a topic that gets touched upon relatively rarely in this genre. And yet, despite the book’s poignant themes, I felt that much of their significance was lost amidst some plot, pacing, and characterization issues. I still had a good time with the novel overall, but ultimately it failed to reach the heights I expected.
The future is bleak in Pacifica, which opens in the year 2193 featuring a world ravaged by natural disasters and epidemics. The North American continent has become unrecognizable after numerous changes to the land and flooding, and what used to be the state of California is now an archipelago. Noram City, the capital of what’s left of the country, is home to both the elites who live safely at high elevations and to the indigent Shoreling population who struggle to survive down near the coasts. With resources dwindling, the government has proposed a new bill called the Relocation Act which will resettle five hundred of Noram’s poorest citizens on a new island called Pacifica.
Understandably, the announcement was met with mixed reactions. Some Shorelings were optimistic, hoping to be chosen for the voyage so that they would have a chance at a fresh start. Others, however, were more skeptical. After all, if Pacifica was such a wonderful paradise, why weren’t the wealthy citizens clamoring to be the ones to go there first?
As the unease sweeps through the city in response to the Relocation Act, Ross Torres, the seventeen-year-old son of the president, gets it into his head to have a bit of fun. Along with his friend Adam Baker, the vice president’s son, the two young men decide to sneak past their security details to check out the riots, subsequently falling into a situation they can’t handle. In the chaos, they meet Marin, the exiled daughter of a pirate king who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, finding herself caught up in the protests. When Adam becomes separated and abducted in violence, Ross is forced to team up with Marin, taking to the seas with her in order to rescue his friend.
This book took a long time to take off. Admittedly, before I knew more about the story, I was drawn to Pacifica because of the promise of pirates and seafaring adventures. Well, none of this good stuff came until much later, because first we had to sit through a long intro of politics and getting to know our protagonists—none of whom were very likeable, if I’m to be honest. Ross’s character was a study in stupidity and arrogance, who just couldn’t seem to take responsibility for his own mistakes or see beyond his own self-interests. It’s also terribly unoriginal, i.e. the rich politician’s son who doesn’t get enough freedom or attention because dad’s too busy with work and mom’s too doped up on prescription drugs. Marin herself fares no better, embodying the cliché of the pirate princess with a heart of gold, complete with a mandatory soft spot for orphaned children. The world-building isn’t very imaginative either; it’s the same old post-apocalyptic dystopian scenario with the earth all messed up because of climate change, and strained resources leading to a huge disparity between the rich and the poor.
But as predictable as this story gets, things do pick up considerable around the halfway point when Ross and Marin finally set sail. Also, fans of YA romance will probably enjoy this book, since I found that aspect to be done very well. More authors should take a page from Pacifica when it comes to gradually exploring and establishing trust between characters before proceeding with the romance. Ross also makes leaps and bounds with regards to his personal growth and development—even if all those changes were to be expected. In spite of this, reading about his eventual epiphany and insight into the situation made the journey worth it in the end.
In sum, more focus on the deeper and more important issues coupled with less reliance on well-trodden tropes would have probably made this one better. While nothing about Pacifica really blew me away or made it stand out from other YA books in the same genre, the story provided an entertaining diversion (especially once it gained momentum in the second half), making this a decent choice if you’re looking for a light, fluffy read.