Wednesday, August 10, 2011

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

All These Things I've Done (Birthright)
From the Back Cover:

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 mafiya family.

My Thoughts:

As soon as I read the synopsis, I wanted this book! I was drawn to the idea of a future world where chocolate and coffee (two of my favorite things!) were illegal and available only through a black market controlled by the mafiya (not a typo, that's how it's spelled in this book). Think of underground coffee bars as opium dens and chocolate bars bought and sold like bags of weed. A lot of other things are also regulated in this futuristic world: postage is paid on emails, paper is a rare luxury, water is so scarce that fountains and swimming pools have been empty for decades, there are no more resources to make clothing so everyone wears vintage hand-me-downs, and just about everything else is rationed.

Anya Ballanchine is technically a chocolate mafiya princess, though she has distanced herself from the family business. Both of her parents were killed in mob hits, and the only thing she cares about is keeping her brother and sister safe while caring for their ailing grandmother and staying under the radar of Child Protective Services. But she can't escape her family ties forever, and three things happen that land her squarely back in the family's sights: she unknowingly gives her ex-boyfriend a chocolate bar laced with poison, the family lures her mentally-impaired brother into the business, and Anya falls in love with the new Assistant District Attorney's son.

Though I really enjoyed this book, it ended up being nothing like what I expected. Even though it takes place in the future and chocolate is the impetus for a world of mafiya violence, it was never really made clear why chocolate (and coffee, for that matter) was deemed dangerous and made illegal in the first place. So it kind of made these grown men look silly, running around threatening and shooting each other over chocolate. Even though the idea of a chocolate war was what drew me to the book, I felt like the idea wasn't fully fleshed out enough. Chocolate never came across to me as being so valuable that people would kill for it. (Although there are times when I think I could!) I think this story would have packed much more of a realistic, gritty punch if it had been set in the present and based on current mob activities.

Because the heart of this book is really a young woman's coming-of-age story. Anya is a great character, and I was instantly drawn to her. She's full of contradictions; a "good Catholic girl" who wants to prove that she's anything but her father's daughter, yet she lives her life by her father's words of wisdom. She's struggling to hold her family together, yet she resists anyone's efforts to help. She doesn't trust the family and wants nothing to do with them...until she needs something. And when she finally meets Mr. Right and he happens to be the D.A.'s son, complications arise that force Anya to determine what's important, what's worth sacrificing, and how she fits into the family organization. She's tough-as-nails and yet so vulnerable. My heart ached for her. The star-crossed love story is very sweet and poignant, although her boyfriend Win does seem a little too perfect. But Anya's story was so compelling that I could not put it down. This was my first time reading Gabrielle Zevin, but it won't be my last. She can write one heck of an emotional story: gripping, suspenseful, and perfectly paced, with some pretty good surprises thrown in. I'm looking forward to the continuation of Anya's journey.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

*Please note: This review references an advance review copy received through the Amazon Vine program. Though I received this book from the publisher, these are my honest and unbiased thoughts, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.

1 comment:

  1. I got excited about this book when I first read the summary too. Glad you liked it in spite of the flaws. I'm looking forward to reading it.
    Truly Bookish


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