Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review: All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Series: Birthright (#1)
Pages: 352
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Published: September 1st, 2011
IBSN: 9780330537896

It's 2083. There's a chocolate prohibition, and New York City is a very changed place. Art museums are now dance clubs, books are musty relics of the past, water is strictly rationed, and the mafia ruled black market consists of chocolate and caffeine.

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.

Anya is essentially the head of her family. Her grandmother is on her deathbed, her older brother's mental capacity took a turn for the worse after a car accident, and her parents are long dead. But that's not unexpected, given that they led the Balanchine crime family, specialising in distributing illegal chocolate.

She was an exceptionally likeable character; sensible, pragmatic, wry, and strong. She was fiercely loyal of her family, despite their shortcomings, and went to extreme lengths to protect them, even sacrificing her own needs to do so. The way she encountered a problem and immediately and selflessly did what was necessary to fix it was incredibly admirable and made her all the more interesting to read about.

The romantic aspect of the book played a huge role, and this didn't invoke the exasperation non-romantics such as myself would associate with this. Given the personal way in which Anya narrated, her relationship with Win dominating so much of her attention felt natural for her. It was clear how Anya the realist could fall for Win (I mean, his hats), and the way being with him broke her out of her pragmatic shell gave her character a whole other level of depth and relatability.

The setting, a dystopian future, was almost reminiscent of the past. The New York of 2083 had the feel of the New York of the 1920s, with smoky speakeasies and less technology. I liked the notion of our society reaching its peak and then slowly declining back to the past in a symmetrical fashion.

Anya narrated in past tense, taking time occasionally to point out her mistakes in the 20/20 clarity of hindsight. The style was refreshingly original and well executed. The prose itself was smooth and lovely, and had the almost wistful or forlorn quality that you'd be familiar with from Elsewhere and Memoirs Of A Teenage Amnesiac.

The conclusion was stunning, and slightly surprisingly. The final line, "May God forgive me for this and all these things I've done" left me awe-struck, and definitely furthered the impression that the book was written almost like Anya's confession. The next book can't come fast enough!

I give All These Things I've Done a 5 out of 5.