Book Review: all these things i’ve done

all these things i’ve done by Gabrielle Zevin (2011, Young Adult, 368 pages)

Set in a dystopian New York City, “all these things i’ve done” tells the story of Anya Balanchine, the 16 year old daughter of the city’s most famous, deceased mob boss.  In this future world, though, it isn’t booze or drugs that Anya’s Family runs, but another now-illegal commodity:  chocolate.  Anya’s story is part of coming of age, part mystery, part romance, and 100% made of awesome.

What makes the book tick (and work) so very effectively is Zevin’s excellent portrayal of Anya.  From the very first paragraph, this girl literally reaches off the page, grabs you by the lapels, and pulls you into her world.  The story is told in the first person, and Anya’s voice and worldview are fresh, distinctive, and endearing.  I found her an incredibly well-written protagonist – funny, loyal, pragmatic (but not without the occasional flair for the dramatic), and flawed.

Nominally under the guardianship of her ailing grandmother, Anya has been left to care for her younger sister and older brother (who is mentally unfit after narrowly surviving an assassination attempt that killed their mother).  Thus, the stakes in this story feel real and weighty.  The plot kicks into gear when Anya’s ex-boyfriend is poisoned by (you guessed it) chocolate he got from Anya.  Sent away to a chillingly horrid future-New York version of juvie, Anya must prove her innocence and protect her siblings.  All of which means getting drawn back into the Family’s illegal affairs.  Mixed into the intrigue is a budding and forbidden romance with the new DA’s son.

Zevin takes a number of fairly familiar YA elements (dystopia, youth in peril, young love…also in peril) and manages to create something fresh and gripping.  This is partly due to a very authentically realized down-at-the-heels future New York, in which water is a vanishingly scarce resource — and one that is rationed along with most other natural resources (fabric, paper, food, etc.).  The success of “all these things i’ve done”, however, rests most squarely on the shoulders of its delightful heroine and her ferocious desire to do whatever it takes to keep her family together.

Gabrielle Zevin, please give me more.

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