Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Series: Birthright, book 1
Genre: Dystopian YA
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Published on: September 6, 2011
Summary: 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.
ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE has been on my TBR for ages because, mostly, I was in turns horrified and intrigued by its premise of a New York–well, world–of the quite near future wherein coffee is a drug, chocolate is illegal, and the world is running out of water. So, probably only one out of those three things could actually happen, but it’s one of the scarier possibilities for out future, if I can be serious for one second. The other two…well those are just the cruel, twisted products of an evil, evil mind. But they certainly caught my attention, along with the heavy helping of THE MAFIA. Or, actually, the Mafiya, the Russian mob. Such an amazing, wonderful, mind-blowing idea! Because I watch a lot of TV, I know that the Russian mob is made of badasses of the highest order, and I’m always fascinated by them, their culture, and how the mob mentality of loyalty, secrecy and cutthroat business practices would translate to an entirely different group of people than the one I’m used to thinking of when I hear “mob.” Not to mention the idea of a young girl basically being forced into taking her whacked dad’s place at the head of her rapidly crumbling family (it seemed, at times, like we were meant to almost infer that Anya’s father was grooming her for his place, although we were never told as much. Just a vibe I got). Sounds MADE OF WIN. And, at least in the beginning, it was. Then, somewhere near the middle…well, I’m not really sure WHAT happened, but the “win” kind of lost its luster a little and became more like “honorable mention.” You know, still good but not quite as good as before. A bummer of the highest order, so let’s get into it.
While there were things about ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE that really made me stop and say, “wow, I’m really liking this” out loud to no one, there were also some things that baffled me, seemed odd or unnecessary, irritated me, and/or felt rushed and random. Let’s start with the good stuff, aka, the beginning, for the most part. This book sucked me right in with its clever, creative, deteriorating future New York City. The city has basically no water and public spaces have either been neglected and misused or converted into clubs or just decaying empty spaces. The cops are completely corrupt and have shrunken in number to the point where they must pick and choose where to actually, you know, police things. There is a city-wide curfew. Postage rates are applied to emails. And, of course, the aforementioned chocolate and coffee business. The whole atmosphere is very…dreary, and you got the feeling that, at some point in the less than 100 years between now and then (2083, to be exact), things REALLY went to hell in a handbasket (more background on this, pretty please?). I appreciated, though, that a lot of the problems and facts of life in this new NYC could at least partly be based in reality. Big bonus points for that because I have a hard time suspending my belief with really outlandish dystopias. I like a little reality in there so that I am appropriately worried and horrified that our current world might actually eventually come to this end I’m reading about.
Jeez! I’ve made it all this way without talking about Anya Balanchine (yes, if you know dancers, she is a descendant of the ballet choreographer, George Balanchine. Cool little thing). Anya is the main character in this story. The daughter of a murdered Russian mob boss who, while not the oldest child in her family–that would be her mentally handicapped older brother, Leo–shoulders the lion’s share of the responsibility while her brother holds down menial jobs and her grandmother lays dying in their apartment. All this while keeping an eye on her younger sister, Natty, maintaining good grades at school, and trying to keep what’s left of her immediate family out of the way of the mob life that killed her father and her mother, and caused her brother’s handicap. (That’s all you’re getting! Read the book for details!) It’s a tricky life for Anya because she always seems to be walking a tightrope. Also, because she is basically mother, sister, father, everything to everyone, she has no real time for herself, and her father’s life lessons have created a cynical, skeptical, paranoid young girl who rarely lets herself have any fun or think of doing something for herself before doing something for her family. I admired her quite a bit and pitied her, too. It’s hard to read about young girls whose family situations have made it impossible for them to act like young girls.
But this part of Anya…I understood it, but I didn’t necessarily always like it, and it got worse as the book went on. Win, her boyfriend, was a great guy and I liked him lots. Easy going, sweet, funny, didn’t seem to have a care in the world, and so patient with Anya. Which basically made him a saint to me because Anya treated him like crap sometimes. She self-righteously resisted getting together with him in the first place, and then deliberately kept him at arms length at times. She resisted her feelings for him, fought them off when they did show up, and in general constantly seemed to be preparing herself for when they would break up. It got old, and despite her growing affection for him, she was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. *sad face*
Apart from my occasionally conflicted opinion of Anya, there were some other things that seemed a little…odd, I guess would be the right word. One of the things that made the first half so gripping was the issue with the poisoned chocolate. It’s good stuff. But then after a while…nothing, really, until, over the course of one chapter, all is revealed, the bad guy is caught, and all is sorted. It’s crazy fast! Unless you want to count the sort of unnecessary, random asides that start popping up about half way through, like someone pointed out that things from the beginning were getting pushed under the rug. They were weird, and since they basically served to break the 4th wall (one even referred to “my dear reader” or some other direct address), I would have much rather had the STORY go there instead of just having a half page of update that had no bearing on the story proper.
Lastly, let’s end with the end. The ending of this book was…confusing. Not bad, just…rushed. Basically, every issue in the book is resolved in two chapters. Maybe two chapters seems like enough, but trust me: All this stuff needed more attention than it got, I thought. And THEN, just when I was trying to figure out how it was that ALL OF THE THINGS had just happened, the last two pages showed up and…the mind is boggled. MINI-SPOILER! Anya and Win…so their relationship is on the rocks and Anya is in juvie. Win goes to visit her even though they are on the outs, they have a conversation that has angry overtones, and then Anya kisses him. Twice. Book over. Spoiler over. Help me. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to interpret the very end.
Aaaaallll of this being said, I really did enjoy the whole mob angle. A lot. The way things are left at the end of the story leads me to believe that things are going to get REALLY good. And by really good I mean really dangerous and…mobby. I’m looking forward to it because, even though Anya had some traits that made me crazy, she’s smart, tough, strong, and devoted to her family. In short, she’s a perfect mafiosa, and I get the feeling things are heading that way for her. Yay, mob!!!