Friday, August 26, 2011
Review: All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin
Anya Balanchine, daughter of one of New York’s most famous crime bosses, lives in a world where everything is rationed, coffee and chocolate are illegal, and crime families run a very well-organized black market. Since her father’s murder, Anya wants nothing to do with the “family business,” wanting only to take care of her mentally damaged older brother and younger sister.
But when Anya’s ex-boyfriend is poisoned by her family’s chocolate, Anya must unwillingly come to terms with her birthright—both the good and bad points.
With a cover like that, a premise like that, and the name of one of YA’s most highly awarded authors attached to it, how could one not pick this book up? With her trademark intelligent writing and world-building, Gabrielle Zevin’s dystopian ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE should be a hit for those who like their YA dystopias a touch on the literary side. It doesn’t quite hit the mark in terms of characterization, but I still very much enjoyed this novel, and look forward to its sequels.
Anya’s New York is like the present day gone to seed and corruption. Famous landmarks have been transformed into slumming hangouts and holding areas, and prepubescent kids rob people off the street with stolen handguns. The setting is fraught with tensions of all sorts, and Zevin makes great use of it. We keenly feel Anya’s struggle to juggle taking care of her family, standing her ground against her corrupt extended family, developing platonic and romantic relationships, and staying on the right side of the law. It is a testimony to the world’s potential that I couldn’t put this book down, even when the plot trudged along like it had all the time in the world to tell its story.
I had the same problem with ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE that I had with Gabrielle Zevin’s other books: that is, I know that Zevin’s writing is wonderful and mature and intelligent, but for some reason, I don’t find myself connecting to the characters as much as feel like I should. For example, while Anya and Win’s relationship is pleasant, it didn’t, I dunno, sweep me off my feet or anything. Anya’s “enemies” are supposed to be sinister and scary, but I didn’t really find myself that indignant or protective on Anya’s behalf.
But I feel like that’s just a “me” thing, because most others I know really like Zevin’s writing. Either way, I enjoyed ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE. At times it can feel like a really long setup to the second book, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll be able to enjoy the stellar world-building along the way.
Cover discussion: Easily one of my favorite covers of the year. It's attractive in a way that doesn't involve flashy dresses or brooding models, but instead with a rich complexity that's hidden from first sight by its appearance of starkness.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Sept. 6, 2011 / Hardcover / 368pp. / $16.99
Sent by publisher for review.