It’s 2083. Chocolate and coffee are illegal. Paper and water are rationed. Anya Balanchine, the 16 year old daughter of the city’s former crime boss, spends her days going to school, hanging with her best friend, avoiding her jerk of an ex, and caring for her family. Her parents are both dead – the downside of mob life – and with a bed-ridden grandmother, a little sister, and a mentally challenged older brother, Anya is the primary caregiver for her family. When her ex-boyfriend is poisoned by the black market chocolate her family manufactures, she is thrown into the spotlight and forced to think about her birthright and what it means to be Anya Balanchine. Her life is further complicated by her growing feelings for the new boy at school, whose dad is the city’s new district attorney.
What I really appreciate about this story is that it is a bit hard to categorize. The story takes place in the future, but is not quite dystopian nor is it science fiction. It’s also a story about a young woman finding her place in her mafia family, but we’re only given a taste of what this mob world is like. And of course there’s the romance, but with all the obstacles in their way and Anya’s dedication to her family, the love story rarely takes center stage. My guess is that all three of these elements will be further explored in the next book in the series, and I’m happy to take it slow.
Zevin created a fabulous cast of lead and supporting characters. Anya is a clever protagonist with a strong narrative voice. Her relationships with her immediate family members are sweet – particularly her relationship with her little sister Natty. She’s a good friend, though sadly has just one. The relationship with Win brings out a softer side of Anya, which is probably good for her given what she goes through during the course of this book. She needs a break, and Win seems to give her some nice moments of escape, where she can breathe easy for a second and feel like a regular teenager. This is not to say that their relationship isn’t without complications. His father, the district attorney, would of course prefer that they not be together (though he is very nice about this), and her connections to the mafia can (and do) put anyone she’s close to in danger. Despite all the obstacles, I feel hopeful for these two.
The setting is fascinating – New York City, 72 years in the future. I love a good futuristic, real world setting where there are no flying cars or hover vehicles! The setting was believable and it was fun to see how Zevin used the city as inspiration for her future world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art turned night club and the (mostly) abandoned Coney Island, were two particularly well incorporated settings. The only setting/section that didn’t impress me were the scenes at Liberty, a juvenile facility that Anya is sent to while she’s awaiting trial for the poisoning of her ex-boyfriend. The scenes here felt formulaic and I was glad when Anya’s story moved on.
My only real disappointment with All These Things I’ve Done has more to do with marketing than Zevin’s delivery. With a dripping chocolate heart on the cover and the illegality of chocolate and caffeine highlighted in the book description, I expected the story to elicit stronger olfactory responses or memories. There’s this coffee shop in my town, where they roast their own beans, and after a visit I carry the smell of roasted coffee around with me all day. While this is perhaps a lot to ask of a book, I really hoped that the chocolate and coffee would ooze out of the pages. They did not.
All These Things I’ve Done is the first book in Gabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series. The book works well as a stand-alone, which is something that I always appreciate in a series book. While the story comes to a close with some loose ends left dangling for book two, we do get some closure in the end and a pretty fabulous final scene. Even without a big cliffhanger of an ending, Zevin has created a world, characters, and conflicts that will easily leave readers wanting more.
Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 2011)
Note: ARC received from publisher for honest review.
All The Kingdoms of the World (working title), which sounds like it will be full of adventure.