Zevin, Gabrielle. All These Things I’ve Done (2011). Macmillan. 367 Pages. $2.99
Birthright | Book One
In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city’s most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.’s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidently poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she’s to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight–at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.
The night before junior year– I was sixteen, barely– Gable Arsley said he wanted to sleep with me. Not in the distant or semidistant future either. Right then.
Admittedly, my taste in boys wasn’t so great. I was attracted to the sort who weren’t in the habit of asking permission to do anything. Boys like my father, I guess.
The first book I read by Gabrielle Zevin was Elsewhere, which influenced my decision to buy this book. I really enjoyed Elsewhere, and I was eager to see what else Ms Zevin has come up with. (I’m glad I did.)
The premise is that anytime something is banned, it creates a black market of sorts for it. In this world, the item that has been banned is chocolate, and there are some major Families whose incomes depend upon the trade of this delicious, yet illicit substance. Anya Balanchine’s family is one of those. They run the chocolate trade in the U.S. and Anya’s late father was the previous head of the Family. She has spent most of her life since he passed trying to live under the radar, and protect her siblings from her family, their exploits, and their reputation.
I loved Anya’s sense of purpose, and determination to protect her family. I enjoyed that she was so driven, and that she worked so hard to take care of them despite their issues. There were parts where I was frustrated by her fixation on that, or by their behavior, but overall, I appreciated that Anya is devoted to her family.
I have some issues with this book, and though they aren’t enough to make me dislike it, they do perhaps stop me from absolutely raving about how much I love it. Because while I enjoyed it, these issues did detract from the novel.
The biggest issue I have is actually sort of spoilerish, so I’m going to white it out. Highlight it if you’d like to read, otherwise please skim past.
[At the beginning of the book, Anya is assaulted by Gable. As in, if her brother had not intervened, he was on-course to rape her. But later, her best friend dates him, because he's "changed." (This, after he violently lashes out at Anya in the hospital.) All of that brought up bad thoughts about the cycle of domestic violence. It made it hard to read, for sure. This could have been a powerful statement, had it been handled deftly, but it came across, rather, as choppy and in poor taste.]
My other issues are related to the world, and the world-building. What we’re presented with is Chicago in decline. Museums are no longer cared for– and are rather used as nightclubs– essential items are rationed, and chocolate is illegal. It’s all very interesting, but it needed so much more about the world to round out the story. Why is chocolate illegal? What happened to the museums? Why are things like paper rationed? What on Earth is going on?
And finally, the writing lacked polish. I feel like it could have been a powerful story if the pacing had been managed, and if some scenes had been shown instead of told (and vice-versa.) There are some situations which are setup early on, but they are never concluded. (Ex; Juvie.) They’re just sort of glossed over. And there are some characters and relationships which could have benefited from trimming/cleanup.
Still, I enjoyed it. It was not the most gripping– I could put it down and walk away just fine– but I was always interested in picking it back up, which is more than I can say for other books I’ve tried to read recently.
All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin earns itself a 3.5 out of 5 in my book. I enjoyed it, and I’ll definitely read the sequel (Because it is My Blood due out September 18, 2012) but I really can’t call it stellar. It’s worth reading if you’d like something entertaining, and relatively light.