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Monday, 20 August 2012

Review: All These Things I've Done

Author: Gabrielle Zevin

Release date: 6th April 2012
Genre: Crime / Dystopian
Series: Book 1 Birthright
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books


All These Things I’ve Done is a futuristic novel and yet it’s not like any dystopian novel I’ve read. It’s more a family saga or a coming-of-age story. Its Godfather-esque mafia crime meets high school drama. And let’s be clear here, it’s absolutely brilliant!

Anya Balachine is sixteen and the night before the new school year starts her Neanderthal boyfriend – Gable Arsley, tries to take advantage of her. (That’s the polite version of events). This is just one of the many problems that Anya faces. Being the daughter of a deceased mafia boss is her greatest burden. It’s an inheritance she could do without. She’s responsible for her siblings and wants to protect them from the clutches of the gangster world. Her older brother Leo has a mental impairment and relies on Anya to offer comfort and stability. Her younger sister Natty is still suffering from the trauma of witnessing their father’s murder. Her Grandmother is bedridden and is being kept alive by machines. Anya’s goal is to go keep her family situation under the radar until she is eighteen and can be made legal guardian of Natty.

In this future there is no grand apocalypse. How refreshing! Rather there is a return to the prohibition years of the 1920s/30s. Coffee is illegal. Chocolate is illegal. Resources are sparse. There’s rationing for many things. Hence organised crime and the black market are big business. The Balachine Empire is a supplier of chocolate. And it’s chocolate that really kick starts the plot moving. Gable Arsley has a real thing for chocolate. When Anya gives him two bars of the illegal sweet stuff to get rid of him, it has unexpected and dangerous consequences.

I found this book so easy to read. Anya’s narrative is direct and it feels as if she is speaking directly to you. The writing is hypnotic. It’s compelling and uncomplicated. You just have to turn those pages. In among the “crime plot” there is the “romance” plot. What could be more complicated for Anya than falling for the son of the Assistant DA? Win is a charming character. I felt we only scratched the surface in getting to know him when compared to how well we get to know Anya. We learn her deepest fears, her practical reasoning, her resilience and the wisdom that her father shared. Anya is a real daddy’s girl and not in the usual meaning.

The questions this book explores are fascinating: when is it right to legalise a substance? Do some laws encourage crime? Does the punishment of a crime lead the perpetrator to commit another? Honestly, I was enthralled. These are the sorts of questions about society that really interest me. At the heart of the book is the most important question: are our lives self-fulfilling prophecies? If we’re born into a life of crime, can we ever escape it?

This is the first novel by Gabrielle Zevin that I’ve read but I’ll certainly be reading more. All These Things I’ve Done is thought-provoking, compelling and action-packed. But there’s warmth, humour and friendship too. One of my favourite books I’ve read this year. Fantastic!

Recommended for fans of:

Source: Review copy sent by Macmillan Children’s Books. Thank you so much!


Joe said...

Sounds great! Going to have to add it to my too read pile :-)

whispering words said...

I really enjoyed this book too - looking forward to the sequel! great review :)

Lyndsey Rushby said...

I really liked this one!

Bookworm1858 said...

I really loved this book-one of my favorite reads of 2011 and I'm so excited for the sequel! I think one of the things I liked most was that it didn't seem like the typical dystopia; it helped the book stand out.

Becky said...

Joe - you should definitely read it. So different to other things I've read this year. Thanks for tweeting a link too.

Whispering Words, Lyndsey and Bookworm - great to hear that there are fans of this book out there. It nearly passed me by because I was a bit fed up with dystopian novels. It's refreshingly different.