Publication Date: September 6, 2011
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 accidentally 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.
Engrossing and suspenseful, All These Things I've Done is an utterly unique, unputdownable read that blends both the familiar and the fantastic.
I wanted to really like All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin. In fact, there are many aspects of the book that almost demand that I like it: crime drama, vintage clothes, (arguably) dystopian setting, mafia family, Prohibition era inspired laws, smart protagonist. I was basically imagining Anya as Tommy from The Black Donnellys; smart, sensitive, really wants out of the family 'business' BUT a) has an older brother with disabilities and poor judgment to take care of and b) stuff just keeps coming up that drags them ever deeper in -- only, you know, a girl. Unfortunately, much of the dialog between Anya and Win (and Zevin's physical descriptions of Win, his hats and his non-band) reminded me of a younger Gabriel Macht as Johnny Dresden in Because I Said So. Inevitably, this how I envisioned Win:
Which, naturally, led me to picture Anya in her ever present red dress like this:
After that, for good or ill, Anya was Mandy Moore.
I had a hard time buying the plausibility of Zevin's vision of the future. I can understand a culture getting caught up on health food and banning something like high fructose corn syrup, and, yes, even caffeine -- but chocolate? It just seem irrational and unlikely; the parallels made between chocolate production and organized bootlegging were tenuous. I also wanted more, needed more, than a curfew and supply shortages to make this a dystopian book (for starters, a repressive and controlled state disguised as an utopian society.) As it is, it is just a crappy vision of the future -- no better or worse than many eras our grandparents or parents have gone through. (Honestly, a good deal better than my grandmother's descriptions of growing up in rural Arkansas during the Dust Bowl, but I digress.) The only real dystopic flavor I tasted was Anya's incarceration in Liberty -- which was all too short and felt like a plot device constructed exclusively to introduce Anya to Win's father. Can we please explore the issue of the tattoos a little more?
The romance between Win and Anya also feel very flat. It just felt too contrived and convenient. Win is almost too nice to be real, and all the interesting bits of him were external -- so, he wears cool hats. Does he have cool thoughts? He was great with witty and charming one-liners, but I never saw substance. I felt like a lot more could be done with him. I found his dad to be substantially more interesting and compelling a character than Win.
I actually feel pretty conflicted about Anya. I appreciate that she is so smart, tough, responsible and self-reliant. However, unlike the aforementioned Tommy, I never really empathised with her. Along with those wonderfully positive traits came a heaping dose of smugness and ego. The first person narrative felt authentic -- I just didn't like her. She was a bit like Mrs. Elton from Jane Austen's Emma, "I would never brag about myself, but my friends say..." Her "confessions" don't read as, "Please forgive these things I've done?" but rather, "Hey, did you hear about all these things I've done?!" Anya constantly underestimates those around her, while simultaneously remaining firmly convinced that she is right about everything. So many of her problems arise from her inability to see past what she thinks about everyone around her to who and what they truly are.
I don't really know where I stand on All These Things I've Done. It wasn't what I wanted it to be, nor was it what I expected it to be. However, it wasn't bad either. I liked quite a few of the characters, and I might even read the next books. I guess I am in that rare place of being truly indifferent.
2.5 of 5 stars
This review also appears on Goodreads. I purchased my copy from Barnes & Noble for Nook.