All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Drawn to the premise and the glowing reviews of Zevin’s earlier work, Elsewhere, I entered a giveaway for a galley copy of All These Things I’ve Done from Macmillan. I won, and phew, if I hadn’t, I would have had to get my hands on the book by some other means, because just look at the description for the story:
The Premise: “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.”
My Thoughts: There was something about combination of a futuristic setting, chocolate, the mafia, and a poisoning, that just had me ready to pounce on this book. I had that “I think I will definitely like this one” feeling. And I think for the most part I was right.
The thing I really loved about this story was Anya herself. This girl has a lot of responsibilities. Her mother died in a mob hit meant for her father, her father was shot a few years later. Her older brother Leo was left with brain injuries in the assassination that killed their mother. Her younger sister, Natty is only twelve. Her ailing grandmother is legal guardian, but is bedridden. Then we have the city of New York, which has basically turned into a pit. Commodities are rationed (or illegal), poverty is rampant, and electricity is not always constant.  Anya maintains the household with funds her father left behind. She enrolled herself and her sister in a top private school, ensures her grandmother has a nurse, and watches out for everyone. At every moment, Anya is working to keep her family safe and out of trouble. All that she has for help are her own memories of her father’s words (“Be intentional [..] Lapses won’t go unnoticed by your friends and especially not by your enemies”, “Daddy used to say you could assume a person was loyal until the day she betrayed you. Then you should never trust her again”, and other such pearls), which he imparted to her throughout her childhood. These tenets from a mafiya boss are now Anya’s tenets, and she uses them with her formidable street smarts.
The mob politics, the bad economic climate, the prohibition-era type undertones, and the general ambiance of this story make me think this is the 1920’s transplanted into a dystopian future. There are things that feel old fashioned, like Anya and her friends lack of cell phones, the internet, or game consoles, and wearing hand me-down-clothes from other eras. Even though the date was supposed to be 2083, there didn’t seem to be any new technology that I’ve never heard of. In fact, the world seems much like ours is now, except it’s regressed by a few decades.  Even the names (“Gable”, “Win”, “Fats”) seem old fashioned. I wonder if this started out as an alternate history which turned into something else. The dystopia part focuses on too many laws and an overworked police force.  The illegality of chocolate and caffeine amongst other things is what is put into question. I am not sure if they’re used to question the illegality of drugs, but I didn’t think they felt quite equivalent, even with the plot of the poisoned chocolate which seemed to represent quality problems from non-regulation. I felt that the message part of the dystopia could have been more clear here.
Anyway, the drama in this story stems from Anya’s taste in boys (the only thing she seems to have trouble with), combined her sordid family history. First there is Gable, a real sleezeball with a unlikable character, despite his pretty face. Then there is Win, who is trouble just because he’s the son of the new assistant District Attorney. It’s not long before one boy gets Anya in trouble with the law, and the other brings her to the attention of his powerful father.  In the meantime, some sort of power play is going on within her extended family’s chocolate business. All Anya wants to do is stay out of it and keep her immediate family safe, but despite her best efforts, just for being the daughter of the last head of the Balanchine empire, she finds herself in the midst of other people’s ambitious plans.  Anya’s own plans to stay out of the limelight are not happening.
I really loved the machinations going on and reading Anya’s point of view about it. She may be a natural leader, but she’s still sixteen and worried for her family. It was inspiring to see her take the reins and navigate tricky situations with her clear eyed practicality. I enjoyed the direction the story went with this and I hope to see more of the same in the sequel. At the same time, I liked how the story included Anya’s relationships with her family – her Nana, her brother, her sister and her best friend Scarlet. I believed in Anya’s protectiveness and love for each of them.
The only issue I had with the relationships in this book was with the romance, and it was a niggle more than anything else.  Even though I was thankful that Anya was practical enough to try to avoid being romantically involved with Win at the beginning (no Instalove), he seems too nice and naive to be Anya’s type.  There were a couple of times he called her on something, but otherwise his personality still felt very flat. On the other hand while I didn’t feel like there was enough to sell me on the romance, there wasn’t enough to turn me off it either. It was kind of…just…there. Hopefully this is something that could improve in the sequel.
Overall: I really liked this one. The self-sufficient teen heroine and the well-written plot won me over.  There were minor niggles with wanting more with the dystopia and the romance, but I think these will be developed more in the sequel or sequels, and these were less important to me than Anya and her predicament were. I would say read this for the mafia (or should I say “mafiya”) undercurrents and Anya’s struggle with her birthright and her need to protect her family.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Sophistikatied reviews – positive
The Compulsive Reader – positive
Presenting Lenore – positive
Book Trailer: