My Rating: Did Not Finish (DNF)
The Pono Way, set in a post-apocalyptic world of 2050, tells the story of Jake Weintraub, an independent journalist living on the artificial island of Pono after escaping the ruins of Chicago. The novel follows Jake as he covers the story of desperate refugees arriving on Pono's shores after the collapse of the West Coast nation of Cascadia.
Unfortunately, I found the novel to have a rough start, with a lot of telling and infodumps about the setting, and a character that I found myself immediately disliking. The unfolding disaster that drives the story was interesting, but it wasn't quite enough to keep me hooked, as the book seemed to focus more on the disaster than on creating characters for the reader to connect with.
Jake's obsession with his website's engagement felt petty, given the backdrop of millions of people dying. His naive view of unbiased news reporting and his desire to profit from the stories of suffering refugees made it difficult to root for him as a protagonist. At times, the characterization of Jake seemed unintentionally comical, as his journalistic methods and priorities appeared somewhat incompetent. His typical approach was to go ask a few basic questions, go home and cobble together a story, then smoke a joint in the garden to turn off his brain. Then he's rewarded with becoming the most famous reporter on the planet, met with global interest. It was sort of baffling; he just kept "failing up." His encounters with the president of Pono showed that he was out of his depth and made it even harder to sympathize with him. Ultimately, I found myself rooting against Jake, as his actions seemed to consistently make things worse.
Although the book attempts to balance optimism and cynicism, the result is a somewhat muddled tone that is neither wholly hopeful nor entirely bleak. This was expressed in the text through Jake's wild temperamental swings. In one chapter, he would have blind optimism that the island of Pono could support any number of refugees and they had to take them all in. Then, a chapter or two later, a refugee cuts him in line, and he cries, runs off, and writes an article about how the refugees don't fit in on Pono. It felt like Jake's beliefs jumped around often, and this inconsistency made it hard to fully immerse myself in the story.
As I read further, my interest in the story waned, and I decided to put the book down. Sadly, The Pono Way is getting a DNF from me. While the premise had potential, the execution and characterization made it difficult to invest in the story.
/* Note: This review reflects only my personal opinion of the book, not the opinion of the entire Team Sciencefiction.news */