All These Things I’ve Done
by Gabrielle Zevin
September 6, 2011
Bought my Copy
Synopsis (from Publisher): 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.
So I’m going to address the biggest thing first. This book is not, strictly speaking, a dystopia. If we’re going to pull out definitions in a dystopian work, the government (or other controlling entity) has to be trying to create a perfect society (a utopia!) but the solution causes greater problems within the society. To me, that intent of creating a perfect society matters. All These Things I’ve Done has been marketed as a dystopia, I assume, because of all the hype surrounding them since The Hunger Games, and if you go into the book, expecting a dystopian society, you’ll come out thinking “what the hell? what’s up with that whole banning of chocolate? WHY?”
That’s the caveat I want to put out there. The society in All These Things I’ve Done is pretty much just like ours. There’s a government trying desperately to solve problems of decreasing resources and increasing crime without much inspiration on how to do it. Which is where we enter Anya’s 2083 where the museums of New York City are now nightclubs, pools are drained because of the lack of water, and, yes, there are gangs smuggling coffee and chocolate since they’ve been banned.
Anya’s the daughter of the Balanchine Family - one of the Five Families of the world that controls the smuggling of chocolate. After seeing her father murdered in front of her at age 9, she’s taken care of her siblings, trying to remove and shield them from the world that killed their parents. This particular task is made more difficult as members of the Family keep showing up to deliver chocolate or trying to hire her older but mentally disabled brother.
I have to wonder if one of the reasons chocolate and caffeine were picked as the banned substances was to allow a teenage girl to be so heavily involved without stoking the ire of moralists who might disapprove of a girl participating in weapons or drug smuggling. It's just chocolate after all, and the scenes where people are 'getting high' on the two substances can be pretty funny in a twisted sort of way. The several nice callbacks to the US Prohibition pleased me since the analogy had to be made at some point and letting the characters notice it makes much more sense than simple lampshading.
I really enjoyed Anya as narrator. She’s practical, over-analytical and as self-centered as she can be when she’s the sole caretaker of her family. She wants to live a normal life, date like a regular teenager, and maybe even go a night or two without worrying about her brother or comforting her little sister after waking up from a nightmare. I also loved her oddly transactional faith. She’s Catholic because her mother was, and she’s vowed to be the best Catholic possible if only her siblings stay safe. It’s so the reaction of a traumatized child, and it’s such a human one too.
As the story continues in Anya’s dry voice, we see just how impossible it is for the Balachine siblings to keep themselves out of their Family’s business. Leo gets a job as a cleaner at a Family (coffee) speakeasy, and when Anya’s ex-boyfriend is poisoned, suspicion falls instantly on her because of her family’s reputation. The scenes following were some of my favourite in the book though one was also the source of one of my biggest quibbles.
When her crush’s father, the assistant District Attorney for New York, comes to retrieve her from the juvenile detention facility (located ironically on the ruins of Liberty Island in New York harbour), he spends the ferry ride back to Manhattan having a conversation with Anya that amounts to “you’re a smart girl so don’t date my son or there’ll be trouble.” Which - he has a point as neither he nor Anya want the media spotlight that may result, but hasn’t he learned anything from Romeo and Juliet or any of the million star-crossed love stories? Don’t tell a teenager she can’t date someone. It just makes the dating inevitable.
Speaking of dating, I really enjoyed Win, Anya's crush-then-boyfriend. I kept wanting to dislike him a little because he seems just a bit too perfect. But he was charming and real, and I could absolutely see why a girl like Anya would neglect her family to fall for him.
My other minorish issue - which totally is probably because I sew - comes from the idea that clothes production has been halted due to water concerns. I can buy that in the world All These Things... is set in. But then Anya talks about things like not being able to raise her arm because there’s a hole in the arm seam. Or a bride wearing a dress that’s too big. What I want to know is - did people forget how to sew? Even if there isn’t fabric, there can be thread and people can alter clothes and mend them! Good grief, people.
I can’t wait for the next book in this series. I really enjoyed reading the development of the world and characterizations (Anya and her little sister Natty especially) and getting a slow introduction to organized crime in 2083. But in many ways, it was the setup for what promises to be an awesome series about a girl and organized crime, a possible (and scary) future, and yeah, chocolate.