2014 EVENTS:
Holly Bourne, Non Pratt and James Dawson - 30th October
Becca Fitzpatrick - 15th November

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

REVIEW: All These Things I've Done - Gabrielle Zevin

Tuesday, 14 January 2014
GENRE: Dystopia
PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: Macmillan Children's
FORMAT: Paperback
BUY IT: Waterstones
RATING: 5 Stars

Sixteen year-old Anya's parents have been murdered because her father was the head of a notorious underworld gang. Now she is determined to keep herself and her siblings away from that world. But her father's relatives aren't so keen to let them go. When Anya's violent ex-boyfriend is poisoned with contaminated chocolate - chocolate that is produced illegally by Anya's criminal family - she is arrested for attempted murder. Disconcertingly, it is the new D.A. in town who releases her from jail, but her freedom comes with conditions. The D.A. is the father of Win, a boy at school to whom Anya feels irresistibly drawn. Win's father won't risk having his political ambitions jeopardised by his son seeing a member of a crime family. She is to stay away with him. Anya knows she risks her freedom and the safety of her brother and sister by seeing Win again. Neither the D.A. nor the underworld will allow it. But the feeling between them is so strong that she may be unable to resist him...

All These Things I've Done is a fast-paced story about a family struggling with loss and the weight of reputation. Set about 80 years in the future the world is a vision of a dystopian future. Manhattan has become a grey, desolate wasteland where everything is rationed by vouchers, including water. It is more importantly about a loss of childhood; the three Balanchine children are forced to grow up quickly and understand everything that has happened to their family. It's a darkly humorous whirlwind through the life of a teenager who has to struggle with both the normal teen processes of falling in love, but also the adult burdens of being born into a dangerous criminal underworld.

Anya is the (now orphaned) daughter of a 'mafiya' crime boss who was murdered in his home. Her mother is also dead and she is now under the guardianship of her aged grandmother who is only being kept alive by machines until Anya is eighteen and able to take guardianship of her siblings: Natty, her younger sister, and Leo, her brother who has slight learning difficulties that means he is vulnerable and easily manipulated.

As a narrator Anya is by far one of the best I have ever read. It is in first person, and there are hints in the texts that she is writing or transcribing the story, though the reader isn't sure where from or why. She is unbelievably strong. She's witty, clever, and has the biggest heart. She understands her responsibility within the family unit as an unofficial guardian and takes it in her stride. She's extremely likeable and although being a Ballanchine comes with a reputation she only lives up to its principles, not its actions.

Although she is strong and level-headed, she is also somewhat conflicted and this makes her so interesting to read. She confesses at the beginning at of the book that she hates her dead father, but she proves time and time again that it's his sayings that actually get her through the day, to the point where as a reader you wonder if she consciously thinks them or if they are internalised. Her narrative is matter-of-fact, and can at times be disturbingly clinical in emotional situations; there is an overtone of resignation, but I actually think this is more of a coping mechanism. The things that happen to her, and the things she has to shoulder, are enough to make any teenager fall apart. The plot is quick-paced and even though I'm a relatively slow reader I read this over 2 days. It's emotionally charged but it's not overwhelming. She spends her time between school and home, as these are the two most important parts of her life. 

I also want to mention the role of religion in this novel, because its an important repeated theme. Even though Anya is a Catholic she does not practice in the traditional way. Confession becomes a way of talking about her problems and (not quite in the traditional sense) of finding absolution. Anya has no one to talk to about her problems. She spends her time protecting everyone from themselves and her family, she can't tell her family because they will worry and she can't tell her friends because they will be put in danger. The priest becomes the only impartial character in her life and is therefore more important than she realises. The Church, then, features as a comfort to Anya and is actually more introverted than the whole religious practice. It takes on her parent's role of spiritual well-being that they cannot fulfil and in the same way acts a moral compass.

You won't really find your typical YA romance in here, although there is anamazing guy called Win. He's much more to Anya than someone who is a potential lover; he's someone who is there for her, is a friend and proves himself to be loyal, and in that way differs from a lot of the men in her life. I wanted them to be together, not necessarily because they would be a 'hot' couple, but because I grew to care about Anya and wanted her to let someone protect her for a change.

I'm happy that this is only the first in a series because I really want to read more about Anya and her family. However I do think that this would work perfectly well as a stand-alone novel. It answers just enough questions to satisfy the reader, but leaves enough open that you only have a vague knowledge of what the future will hold. This is also what the chapter headings and contents pages do - you think it tells you what is going to happen, and in a way it does, but the way Anya speaks and the intricate details of the events still make it worth reading. I think it's brave but also inspired when you have writing that is as strong as this.

Finally I wanted to share a quote that I feel really sums up the feel of this novel; it's on page 52 for anyone who has the UK Macmillan edition:

"I smiled at him. 'Her whole life story right here waiting for us to read it.'
He agreed. 'It's sad when you think about it, but also kind of beautiful.'"

- Bex.

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