Able to look past wonky world building and focus on a well-paced coming of age romantic thriller based on Romeo + Juliet? Check out Gabrielle Zevin's latest book, ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE.
All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin
Published September 6th, 2011 by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux (BYR)
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.
In Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE, the first in the Birthright Trilogy releasing September 6th from FSG, we are dropped into 2083 New York and the life of mob princess Anya Balanchine (George Balanchine reference anyone?). Her family controls the city of New York’s illegal chocolate supply in an almost apocalyptic (note: not dystopian – nothing remotely utopian here) cityscape where everything from water to paper is rationed and caffeine and cocoa are illegal. Sadly for 16 year old Anya, her parents both died in mob hits and she is left in the care of her dying, bedridden grandmother and her mentally handicapped older brother Leo. She has a lot on her plate, that’s for sure.
I loved Anya. She was a great heroine and protagonist, taking on everything that came at her with such deft ease. Even after being smacked down, she picks herself back up and grows. At times her manner of narration (speaking directly to the reader) can be a bit tedious, but the easy mix of literary writing with clean-cut and eloquent is successful. Zevin’s skills as a writer are evident. What I missed, though, was a connection with the other characters, especially Win, the designated love interest in this tale obviously based on Romeo and Juliet. I thought at times the relationship seemed forced and based on little or nothing. It just happened, as did the story at times. An entire year is covered in the novel while only seeming like a month or two, which was somewhat confusing.
About the setting… The story takes place half in 2082 and half in 2083, but besides tablet computers, the mention of rationing and plagues, and the Statue of Liberty’s mysterious fate, it could easily be 1983. There was nothing that set this story apart from now, and that was distracting. To be successfully science fiction, ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE needed more world-building, but this was easy to overlook and so I did, but it is the main reason why I cannot give this a higher rating. And it gets a bonus half point because at the end there is a mention of Mount Koya in Wakayama-ken, Japan. Having been there, I agree – it’s a wonderful place to go into hiding. If book two or three takes a jaunt to Koyasan I will suggest this series to any and everyone. If you ever go to Japan, Mount Koya is a MUST SEE. And stay at a temple. You will not regret it, trust me. I mean, look at this, it’s GORGEOUS.
Enough of my fond memories! I am going to sum this up.
Pros: great writing, awesome heroine, 日本が大好き！！, interesting premise
Cons: nothing really happens, somewhat blah romance, world building issues
VERDICT: Even if the action is kept to a minimum, the pacing keeps pulling you along for the ride, which is the sign of a great writer. At least in my opinion. Ignore the world building issues and you’ve got yourself a tight piece that is sure to keep you interested and hooked.