Thursday, September 29, 2011

All These Things I've Done

All These Things I've Done
by Gabrielle Zevin
The Birthright series, book one

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 mafia family. (description from

This book *almost* earned a gold star. I LOVED it, overall. Anya is a great character. Overwhelmed by responsibility, emotionally wrung out, and yet she plugs away, pulling through, and maneuvering her way through a dangerous world. The world! Can we talk about how believable Gabrielle Zevin has made this world? Set in 2083, this is obviously in the future, and yet other than knowing about things that have become illegal, it feels as if it could take place tomorrow. There was never a doubt in my mind that this world could become a reality.

The designation of coffee and chocolate as illegal substances has created black market trading, which in turn has created mafia-like families that deal in these substances. Anya is a Ballanchine...and the Ballanchines are Russian chocolatiers. Seeing the Ballanchine crime family's interactions with each other and the outside world was fascinating. I loved how the family was ever present in Anya's mind.

The only thing that Anya considered more in her decision making was her religion. While some could consider this book as Christian fiction (because Anya is a devout Catholic, practicing to feel closer to her deceased mother), it never feels overwhelming. Some books have a religious theme that ends up overpowering the rest of the story. Here, it is just such a strong part of Anya's character that it only adds to the amazing story.

In fact, the only thing that I thought detracted at all from the story was that Anya would occasionally address the reader. The book is framed as a recounting of her early years, written almost as a journal. The reader easily forgets this, though, as the story goes on...until Anya suddenly addresses the reader...then goes back to the story. While not a bad idea in theory, in practice, it disrupts the flow of the story and feels jarring. However, it did not bother me enough to make me love the story any just meant that the book wasn't quite perfect.

I have high hopes that book two in the Birthright series will indeed earn a coveted gold star review. For now, my recommendation? Ummm...READ THIS ONE. It was great! (And if you loved Holly Black's Curseworkers books, you will LOVE this one...)

Full disclosure: Audio book received to review for AudioFile magazine, review copy received from Zeighost Media

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