All These Things I’ve Done epitomizes everything I love about Young Adult literature. It’s told in a first-person introspective POV by 16-year-old Anya Balanchine. She tells the story in real-time, blow by blow, but there are phrases that indicate that she’s looking back, like “If I had known what was to come” etc. It also has a chatty tone as she addresses the reader directly with asides punctuating her narrative like “I pride myself on being a reliable narrator” or “Feel free to gag” (when she’s describing her mushy love feelings).
Author Gabrielle Zevin knows what teens want and this novel has a little bit of everything: dystopian themes, star-crossed lovers, an organized crime family, a genius, chocolate — all told with humor and introspection and that perfect mix of certainty and insecurity that most teens struggle with. What’s not to love?
Publisher’s description: 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 accidently 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.
It’s titillating too. The novel’s opening sentence made me think at first think that I wouldn’t be sharing it with my 13-year-old daughter:
The night before my junior year — I was 16, barely — Gable Arsley said he wanted to sleep with me. Not in the distant or semidistant future either. Right then.
. . . but the truth was quickly revealed about this plotline. Anya wasn’t going to have sex because 1) she didn’t really like her boyfriend much and 2) because she upholds the teachings of her Catholic faith that she should wait for marriage. In fact, this very scene sort of sets up Gable as one of the bad guys. However, sex is not labeled as all bad. Later she does struggle with a temptation to get intimate with her current boyfriend, a very real struggle that girls who are trying to avoid sex outside of marriage would relate to. I appreciated the honest portrayal of this teen issue.
All These Things I’ve Done is the first in the Birthright series, and I can’t wait to read more. Though the end will leave readers wanting to know what is going to happen to Anya and her family, and specifically in her romantic relationship, it wasn’t a total cliffhanger. I think that the novel stands alone, which is very important to me.
My daughter Amanda did end up listening as well, but we hadn’t really talked about it until I read my review to her. She said “You make it sound like it’s a really awesome book. I thought it was just okay.” That surprised me, because not only do I think that it is a superb audio version, but probably the best YA book I’ve read this year. She is more an action-girl than an introspective narrative girl, so maybe that’s why. Also, as I indicated above, she’s definitely on the young end of the target market, so perhaps she’ll like it more when she’s older.
CONTENT NOTES: Other than the items mentioned above, it’s a fairly clean read. I don’t remember any swearing, and any other unsavory activities are portrayed in a negative way, not glorified.
AUDIO NOTES: This reader, Ilyana Kadusin, is new to me, but I absolutely loved her. Her voice was realistically youthful (not always a given in YA audios), and carried me right along. The way that the book is written, as journaled thoughts from Anya directly to the reader, makes it a perfect fit to be enjoyed on audio.
Jennifer Donovan would probably rather live without chocolate than coffee. She blogs about other delights at Snapshot (theoretically).