For What It's Worth

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: all these things i've done by Gabrielle Zevin

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. (YA)
all these things i've done has a fascinating premise that doesn't completely hold up. Boy did I struggle with this review. I absolutely loved the first half of this book and then it kind of fell apart for me.
It's 2083: chocolate and coffee are illegal!! Horrifying right?? Author Gabrielle Zevin has crafted a tale that feels very plausible. Poverty is rampant, water is regulated, chocolate and coffee are illegal, oranges are a rare luxury. The politicians are corrupt often accepting bribes from the local crime bosses. It could happen….it has happened. It felt very reminiscent to the prohibition era but with a modern twist.
This book has been described as a dystopian and there are certainly elements of that but it felt more like a crime/mafia novel to me. Anya Balanchine is the surviving daughter of local crime boss who dealt in the illegal chocolate trade.
Although she's not rich, Anya's father has left her family comfortable and as his daughter she is able to afford small luxuries, not to mention keep a secret chocolate stash.

Life is not easy for Anya though, at 16, she has already seen her share of heartbreak. Her mother was killed in a mafia related hit that left her older brother Leo with a disability and seizures, her father was gunned down in front of Anya and her baby sister Natty. Anya is struggling under the weight of responsibility for her siblings after her father's murder. Her grandmother is their guardian but her health is failing, only being kept alive by machines.

I can't even tell you how much I adored Anya. She is the rare YA female character that I admired and respected. The well being and safety of her family is her number one priority. She makes mistakes but isn't afraid to humble herself if it means helping her siblings or grandmother.

When Anya meets Win she finally finds someone who understands the hardships she's going through and is there to provide an escape for her. Win is an adorable quirky sort who wears funny hats and always knows the perfect thing to say. He's also the son of the new local assistant DA who has a tough on crime stance. Having his son dating the daughter of a notorious crime lord doesn't fit in well with his image and he makes that abundantly clear to Anya.
A few problems I had: I know everyone is living a hard life because they said so…. but they were also pretty much going about their business without too much trouble. I know I would be devastated if I couldn't have chocolate and downright evil if I didn't get my cup of coffee each morning but it's hard to understand how this is that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. Zevin never explained how any of this came about either. Why was alcohol legal but not chocolate? The shortage of water and paper seems much more frightening to me but because of Anya's family ties the story focused on the chocolate.

The first half of the book is focused so tightly on Anya and her family and I loved reading about them. Then an incident where Anya's ex-boyfriend Gable Arsley is poisoned by chocolate takes place and she is accused of trying to kill him. Some truly horrifying things happen to Anya but once she is cleared the focus shifts to the mafia and Anya taking control of the family business. Maybe it's just me but I wasn't really all that interested. Her personality also seemed to change. That was ok with me - she needs to play the game and get involved with the family business whether she wants to or not to keep her family safe but so many events and conversations seemed to place off the page that I missed the intensity of the first half of the story.
I guess that would be my biggest complaint. During the second half, all those slowly crafted relationships with Win, her best friend Scarlet and others seemed to just drift. Scarlet and Anya had stopped talking but I never even realized it happened until they made up. She kept leaving Win behind and he would just.... go home….I guess. I was particularly disturbed by Win & Scarlet's seeming to overlook a past incident between he and Anya.
This is a series and there is a quite a bit of foreshadowing, particularly with the Japanese Mafia and it's leader Yuji Ono. all these things i've done seems to be trying to tell two tales….that of star crossed lovers - Win & Anya (I loved them at first but just wasn't seeing it in the second half) and the rise of a mafia princess. It might have worked better for me if those two threads were tied together throughout the book but the late switch in narrative felt jarring.
Rating: 2.5 Fans of dystopia or mafia tales will probably enjoy this one more than I did. Although I was absolutely riveted by the first 200 or so pages I felt confused and slightly bored by the last 140.
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Buy the Bookall these things i've done
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (September 6, 2011)
Source: Free copy provided by Amazon Vine program for my honest review.


  1. I definitely like the first part of the book better too, Karen. I was disappointed that not enough explanations were given as to why chocolate/coffee were illegal.

  2. I love dystopia but this is not the first review I see that complains about the same issues. Mostly that it's boring. I'm not sure I want to try it. Thanks for the honest review!

    Xpresso Reads

  3. Oh interesting things not able to have in the future. Pretty cover and and I love the dystopian books. Must add to the pile.

  4. No coffee or chocolate!!! How could they survive?!

    I think I would agree with you. Not having luxuries is not really the most dramatic thing, dystopia's better when freedom is encroached upon than a lack of something you like, just don't need. Also, it definitely sounds like a crime novel, not dystopia!

  5. I really enjoyed this book. There was a few things about it that got me though. But i agree with you i also liked Annie and Win's relationship in the beginning but in the end i didn't care for them too much. I did however enjoy the concept of chocolate and coffee being illegal. I'm not saying that i would want that but it would be cool to like live in a world like that for a week or so you know? To have a new expirence. Thanks for the invite to Book Blogger Confessions i will try it out if not this week definately next week.