Series: Birthright Series
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian, Crime
Publisher: PanMacmillan Australia
Release Date: 6th September 2011
Source: Review copy provided by publisher for an honest review.
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.
New York, year 2028. You’re sixteen years old, dogged by the legacy of a criminal chocolate business your murdered father once lead. Your grandma, your only guardian, is the oldest person you know (born in 1995) and she’s bedridden. Your elder brother is gorgeous, and girls would love him, if only he didn’t have the mind of an 8-year-old. Your little sister makes you ache to protect the rest of your family.
Not to mention that your a-hole of a boyfriend insists on sleeping with you.
So what do you do?
I won’t tell you too much, but let’s just say that eventually, you get arrested for attempted murder.
All These Things I’ve Done is a book that whisked me off my feet and took me on a journey. A journey through one year of Anya Balanchine’s life as I saw an alternate, morally corrupt world through her eyes and explored the potential ramifications of extreme Prohibition laws. In 2028, chocolate, mobile phones and coffee are amongst the many items that we now take for granted that have been outlawed. The effect is a world that we recognise as our own, but disorientingly merges elements of the past and present, to bring them to the future.
However, the dystopia of this world is merely hinted at, while Anya’s story takes the forefront. Anya is brave, smart and resilient, hardened by being forced to take over the parental role in her family after her father’s death. But she’s still young and impulsive, and nowhere near perfect, and I envisioned with bated breath, captivated, as she tumbled from trouble into disaster. Anya amazed me – I can’t imagine that any sixteen year old could have the wit, instinct and courage to experience what she does and come out as wholly as she does. She’s remarkable and extraordinary, but I felt her maturity was too unrealistic at times.
Gabrielle Zevin creates characters that unique, flawed and plausible, and through them, she portrays different facets of human nature. I believe that the best books are ones that make me think – hidden within are themes and ideas that bring up questions for me. I’m not a careful reader, but this book inspired me to try. The very title, “all these things I’ve done” suggests that the book is an exploration of the idea of redemption. Do we all deserve a second chance, no matter what we’ve done, or are some acts too horrible to be redeemed? What is the threshold of human forgiveness? Does an ability to forgive others make you a strong person, or weak minded? Are we, as humans, inherently good or bad? I guess there is no clear, definite distinction between black and white, because Anya’s world and life is comprised of all shades of grey.
There are books that take me away with the romance between characters, and there are those that simply don’t. While the synopsis portrays this as a story of a pair of star-crossed lovers, I didn’t really see that. I thought it was more of a subplot, and I couldn’t help rolling my eyes, when literally 15 pages into the book, we had already met the guy who would so obviously be the love of Anya’s life. I was frustrated that there was no real doubt or gradual falling in love; that they were automatically drawn to each other, despite Anya’s flimsy attempts to distance herself.