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All These Things I've Done

All These Things I've Done  - Gabrielle Zevin 3.5 stars (Looks at back of book. Reads “2082”. Looks at Goodreads synopsis. Reads “2083”. Is confused.)New York, 2083. Chocolate and coffee are illegal. Curfews are enforced. Water is a precious commodity. And Anya Balanchine, orphaned daughter of a prominent criminal underworld figure, is arrested for attempted murder. Gabrielle Zevin drops her readers into a future that is unsettlingly easy to imagine (with the exception of the chocolate ban, perhaps). It’s our world – just bleaker, harder, darker. Rather than wildly hypothetic dystopian elements or a brutal totalitarian government system, Zevin has drawn on current economic and environmental concerns and amplified them, building a New York that is disquieting, yet still recognisable. Futuristic details are used sparingly. Echoes of the prohibition era resonate in the references to speakeasies and crime syndicates, wielding their power by controlling the flow of contraband. From the outset (that would be the table of contents, in this instance), I was quite taken with Anya as a narrator. Her voice is sharp and intelligent, and the first person style works well to flesh out Anya’s distinct character. It brings her to life, rather than falling into the flat, generic, “insert-self-here” type of prose that occasionally crops up in YA novels. Anya is shrewd and pragmatic, yet there are hints that there is more to her than just practicality and business-smarts. In her developing relationship with Win, her staunch loyalty and protective instincts towards her family, and her conflicted feelings about religion and spirituality, Anya still has moments of uncertainty and vulnerability. While she’s a savvy young woman with a fierce streak, she’s still just sixteen years old, with a lot on her shoulders. Anya relates her story in past tense, often interjecting her own narrative to clarify or comment on events from her present perspective, which lends the writing a conversational (and occasionally confessional) tone. It’s true that Anya often keeps her cards close to her chest, and she doesn’t wax sentimental or linger over details, particularly when it comes to her romantic entanglements. This can at times render her somewhat emotionally distant, but her reticence felt in keeping with her character. [Small personal aside here to say that I think I connected with Anya so much because we had a bonding moment over having curly hair. When Anya confesses to not usually liking people running their fingers through her hair, I practically cheered in agreement.] Besides Anya herself, for the most part I enjoyed the supporting characters in ‘All These Things I’ve Done.’ In particular, the members of Anya’s immediate family, along with Gable, Win and Scarlet, were well realized. I felt invested in their interactions with Anya and the way their relationships played out in the plot. The themes of family and loyalty feature heavily in this story, and as such Anya’s siblings play a large part in shaping who she is and what choices she makes. The other Balanchine relatives, however, I felt lacked the depth of characterisation to make them truly interesting and compelling, though I suspect we have much more to see of them in the future. Given the name of the trilogy YES! A TRILOGY! SURPRISE! we have a clue about the direction Anya’s arc will take. While a considerable portion of the book deals with her burgeoning “star-crossed” (and I use that term extremely loosely) romance, it is evident that Zevin has larger issues at play here, in terms of gender politics and personal identity. Using the backdrop of “the family”, with its patriarchal traditions and strict societal rules Zevin deftly manoeuvres Anya into both external and internal conflicts which, I predict and hope, will have Anya examining the power she holds and redefining her position in the Balanchine family. The pressure exerted by the gender role views held the family, along with Anya’s inner struggle between head and heart, open up the story for some potentially interesting developments in the future installments. Granted, to make this work and build strong plot threads that will carry through into further books, the pacing did suffer a little. At times I felt the book lurched in terms of tension, as the plot juggles the tasks of being a Bildungsroman, developing a crime story and creating a believable romance. However, I found the climax gripping and I was racing through the final chapters, caught up in Anya’s unraveling world. The final page, in my opinion, was brilliant, closing the story on a slightly ominous, resonant note.All These Things I’ve Done is an unusual novel, with an interesting premise and a well-executed voice. Despite a few qualms, I found it an engrossing read, and I’m interested to see how Anya’s story develops in the following books.