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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

'All These Things I've Done' Birthright #1 by Gabrielle Zevin

From the BLURB:

Sixteen year-old Anya becomes the head of a mafia family after her parents are both murdered by rival gangs. Although Anya is embroiled in the criminal world, she is determined to keep her brother and sister out of the mafia family, but her father's relatives aren't so keen to let them go. When Anya's violent ex-boyfriend is poisoned with contaminated chocolate – chocolate that is produced illegally by Anya's mafia family – she is arrested for attempted murder and sent to the notorious jail on Manhattan Island.

Eventually she is freed by the new D.A. in town, who believes she has been framed. But this D.A. is the father of Win, a boy at school to whom Anya feels irresistibly drawn, and her freedom comes with conditions. Win's father wants to be mayor, and he can't risk having his ambition jeopardised by rumours spreading that his son is seeing a member of a notorious crime family. Anya knows she risks the safety of her family by seeing Win again, but the feeling between them may be too strong to resist...

The year is 2083, and Anyashka ‘Anya’ Balanchine is a dead mobster’s daughter, trying to keep her head down and look after her dwindling family.

Once upon a time in the United States, prohibition banned the manufacture, transportation, sale and consumption of liquor. In present day, recreational drugs like heroine and ecstasy are illegal, and selling and possession come with heavy fines and jail-terms. In the year 2083, chocolate is banned. But the Balanchine family were at the centre of an illegal chocolate syndicate – importing the delicious goods from countries like Russia and Japan who haven’t yet instigated the ban of the confectionary.

The Balanchine’s were a tight-knit, New York based crime family – wheeling and dealing with hazelnut candy bars. Until Anya’s mother was shot dead, and her older brother, Leo, disabled in the same assassination attempt. Later, Anya and her little sister, Natty, witnessed their father’s execution – a bullet to the head and several to the chest.

Now all that’s left of the family is Anya, Leo, Natty and their bed-ridden Nana.

All Anya wants is to keep the family intact – she’ll get her high school diploma (maybe even follow in her mother’s forensic detective footsteps) and reach the age of 18 before her Nana dies and simple-minded Leo is rendered unfit to be a guardian to Anya and Natty.

But something is stirring in the chocolate underground. Poison-laced candy bars have been distributed, and the Balanchine’s are in hot water. The family is taking an interest in Leo, and grandma’s not getting better. Not to mention Anya has befriended a handsome new boy in school called Win, who just so happens to be the new NY district attorney’s son.

So much for keeping her head down.

‘All These Things I've Done’ is the first book in Gabrielle Zevin’s ‘Birthright’ trilogy.

I have never read a Gabrielle Zevin book before, though I have heard of her as being a young adult author who specializes in the quirky/sweet. Books in her backlist include a tail of a fifteen-year-old dead girl who is aging backwards until she is reincarnated to earth as a new infant. And a self-explanatory book titled ‘Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac’. So I was really excited to dip my toes into Zevin’s unique YA outlook . . . and I've got to say, ‘All These Things I've Done’ was a brilliant introduction.

‘All These Things I've Done’ is a hard book to pin down to one genre. It is science fiction, for being set in the year 2083. There’s an element of crime – what with Anya being a member of a prominent (if fictional) NY crime family. There’s also a heavy romance element, of the star-crossed variety, as criminal Anya falls for the DA’s son. But overarching all these themes is the current YA genre darling – dystopia. ‘All These Things I've Done’ is, ultimately, leaning heavily on the dystopic as Zevin introduces us to a future New York stripped by global warming.

I do love the 2083 setting, for a number of reasons. One of them being the glimpse into a future that has been ravaged by our current environmental clumsiness. New York in the future has no central park – it is instead a dirt wasteland, where shady characters meet to do shady dealings under the cloak of night. Water consumption must be timed, lest the price increase dramatically due to shortage. Alcohol is easy to obtain at any age, and Anya does not believe her grandmother’s stories of a time when age-restrictions were placed on its consumption. The Statue of Liberty has been converted into a lost girl’s home for juvenile delinquents, and Coney Island was shut down due to plague outbreak (or some such nonsense). The American Museum of Natural History has been stripped and turned into a nightclub called ‘Little Egypt’. Zevin has written a thoroughly intriguing and scarily believable future New York, and she shows it to readers ingeniously. Not only do we read Anya’s blasé descriptions of New York as she has always known it, she also recounts her Daddy’s tales of Central Park’s skate-rinks and Christmas decorations (an unfathomable sight for Anya). Even better than that, we get her Nana’s take on things. Anya’s Nana, Galina, is us in the future. She was a Gen Y/Z kid (born in 1995) who uses the antique phrase ‘OMG’ to the bewilderment of her granddaughter. I love, love, loved Zevin’s mish-mash of the present becoming antiquated in the future.

I have to admit, at first I was a little confused by the whole ‘banning of chocolate’ storyline. I mean, I understood the prohibition references and perhaps the social commentary on the symbolism of illegality. But I didn’t know how it would leak into the storyline . . .

I was still thinking about Daddy when I became aware of Mr Beery calling my name. ‘Ms Balanchine, care to weigh in on the reason the Noble Experiment ultimately failed?’
I narrowed my eyes. ‘Why are you asking me specifically?’ I would make him say it.
‘Only because I haven’t heard from you in a while,’ Mr Beery lied.
‘Because people liked their liquor,’ I said stupidly.
‘That’s true, Ms Balanchine. A bit more, though. Something from your personal experience perhaps.’
I was starting to loathe this man. Because banning anything leads to organized crime. People will always find a way to get what they want, and there will always be criminals willing to provide it.’

Zevin is very clever. Anya’s family association with the illegal chocolate trade marks her as ‘bad’ – she is the daughter of the criminal element and therefore dangerous, bad news and should be avoided. But as readers we aren’t particularly concerned by the illicitness of chocolate. So it’s an interesting conundrum Zevin presents us with – a girl marked as ‘bad’, but who readers don’t find threatening. How will she rise against the stigma of her family and avoid repeating their mistakes?

And, as promised by Zevin’s backlist, ‘All These Things I've Done’ also has an interesting romance. Anya falls for the new DA’s son, Win – in a very urban dystopic version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Win was superb – he’s a sweet and sensitive young man with a penchant for cool hats who is living in his father’s shadow but likes to make up his own mind about people. I love him and Anya together.

‘All These Things I've Done’ is the first in a trilogy from Zevin, called ‘Birthright’. I was so glad to read this, after the final disastrous/cliff-hanger chapter of the book. I will now be enjoying the torturous wait for the second book in the series, and more of Anya’s double-life as an illegal chocolate crime princess with doomed love and a heavy weight on her shoulders. Gabrielle Zevin, you thoroughly hooked me!


1 comment:

  1. Oh very good to hear. I just recently won this book - so I hope i like it just as much. Though I have the chocolate bleeding heart cover I think.

    Pabkins @ Mission to Read


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