All These Things I've Done is the first book in a new dystopia series by Gabrielle Zevin. All These Things I've Done is the story of Anya Balanchine, sixteen years old in 2083 (told in her first person viewpoint, looking back from many years later). Anya's parents are both dead, and her grandmother is dying. Anya is responsible for her 12-year-old sister Natty and her developmentally disabled older brother Leo. Anya's life is complicated by the fact that she is the heir apparent of her father, legendary crime boss Leonid Balanchine, founder of Balanchine Chocolates.
What I think is noteworthy about All These Things I've Done as a dystopia is that Anya's 2083 New York isn't fundamentally different from the New York of today. Oh, sure, there are some changes. Chocolate and caffeine are illegal. Public funding has deteriorated to such an extent that most museums have been turned into nightclubs. Water is heavily rationed, and riding anywhere in a car is extremely rare. International travel is prohibitively expensive, because of fuel costs. But really, it's a logical extension of today's world, as public and environmental resources have become scarcer and scarcer, and public perceptions of what constitutes an illicit substance have shifted a bit. Kind of depressing, though reassuring in some ways.
But the dystopia is a backdrop, anyway. All These Things I've Done is a character-driven coming of age story that focuses squarely on the tribulations of Anya. She is mercurial in temperament, fiercely loyal to her family, and as cynical as one would expect from someone of her background. But she's a good Catholic girl, too, refusing to have sex before she's married, and confessing her sins in chapel. She's surrounded by a slightly zany cast of characters, and she only gradually finds her place among them all.
I listened to the audio edition of All These Things I've Done. I thought that the narration and pacing were well done. The narrator's voice felt like Anya's to me, and listening to the audio version increased my empathy for the character. (The audio version made it harder for me to flag passages as I was reading, however, one of the reasons that I rarely review audiobooks).
Here are a couple of passages from the print edition of the book, to give you a feel for Anya's voice, and Zevin's world-building:
"The first day of school stunk more than most first days of school, and they tend to stink as a rule. Everyone had already heard that Gable Arsley and Anya Balanchine were over. This was annoying. Not because I had any intention of staying with him after the foul he'd committed the night before, but because I'd wanted to be the one to break up with him. I'd wanted him to cry or yell or apologize. I'd wanted to walk away and not look back as he called my name. That sort of thing, right? (PAge 10, ARC)
"We had missed our regular crosstown bus and, due to MTA budget cuts, the next one wasn't for another hour. I liked to try to be home when Leo got back from work and I decided that it would take less time for us to walk across the park back to our apartment. Daddy once told how the park used to be when he was a kid: trees and flowers and squirrels, and lakes where people could canoe, and vendors selling every kind of food imaginable, and a zoo and hot-air balloon rides and in the summer concerts and plays, and in the winter, ice skating and sledding. It wasn't like that anymore.
The lakes had dried up or been drained, and most of the surrounding vegetation had died. There were still a few graffitti-covered statues, broken park benches, and abandoned buildings, but I couldn't imagine anyone willingly spending time there." Page 21, ARC)
I wasn't wholly won over by Anya's relationship with the son of the acting District Attorney, Win. Despite the story being told in the first person, it felt like Anya wasn't really sure how she felt, or wasn't admitting how she felt, so it was difficult as a reader to invest in the relationship. Anya's relationships with her siblings and her best friend, and even with Win's father, on the other hand, all felt real.
All These Things I've Done features an intriguing premise (What if chocolate was illegal? How would that affect society and the black market? Would a black market around something as benign as chocolate still breed violence?), and detailed, plausible world-building. But its real strength as a book is Anya, a compelling and admirable character faced with a series of difficult situations. I will certainly read future books in this series, because I want to know what happens next to Anya and her family. I'd like to know if she lives up to her birthright, and if she ends up happy or not. Recommended for dystopia fans, or anyone who enjoys reading about strong characters facing moral dilemmas.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers / Macmillan Young Listeners (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: September 6, 2011
Source of Book: Listened to review CDs from the publisher, and then pulled quotes from the print advance review copy (also from the publisher).
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).