So recently I got to go to the Macmillian Preview, and lo, it was awesome. Previews are generally pretty awesome– oh, wait, you want to give me free books for my kids and booktalk to me for like an hour and a half? Sorry, no thanks, that sounds too awesome, not my thing– but this one was exceptionally cool. The sheer tonnage of awesome I received made it hard to decide which one to read first; I’ve only got two eyes, four if I’m wearing my glasses. CURSE YOU MORTAL BODY, WHY WASN’T I BORN WITH MORE EYES?
But in the end, the decision was made for me. Because as I walked in, someone was holding up a book and saying “futuristic teenaged girl mafia don” and everything good inside of me went “THAT. GET THAT NOW. KNOCK DOWN CIVILIANS IF NECESSARY” and it was on. Which, Dear Reader, leads me to All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin.
It’s New York City in 80 years or so and things are bleak but not post-apocalyptic. Think New York during the 1980s/early 90s, back when crime was really bad and Law and Order was still gritty. Everything is rationed; caffeine is the new alcohol for kids looking to get a buzz on, and chocolate is illegal. Anya Balanchine’s father, the last great crime lord of New York, has been dead since she was a child but the crime family he built lives on, dealing in chocolate and booze and danger.
Anya, for her part, is pretty content to stay the heck out of that. She’s got enough problems keeping her family going; between her dying grandmother, damaged older brother, and nightmare plagued little sis, Anya is the one whose job it is to hold the world together. She wants to be left alone, by the press, by her teachers, and especially by the Balanchine family.
ENTER CUTE BOY STAGE RIGHT. Win is sweet, charming, handsome, and the new DA’s son. Anya knows being with him is the worst possible thing she can do right now– family comes first– but he’s also the person who makes her happiest in the world right now, and giving him up is harder than giving up chocolate.
I liked this book. I really did. I wanted to like it more, but it was enjoyable, full of interesting characters (I want more Yuji Ono like I want air– awesomely BAMF!Japanese air), and has plenty of room to grow into the sequel(s). That being said, there were some serious flaws here, rating this book a solid Ron Weasley.
The book has a lot of drama– conflicts and arguments that you think will come to an explosive head, but for the most part just sort of die off within the next ten pages. Every time I thought I’d found the central plot device/conflict of the story, it was resolved and left alone. Prime example: Anya’s ailing grandmother dies under mysterious circumstances and they can’t have an autopsy– MURDER! Oh wait, no, not murder? And now we’re not going to talk about it anymore? Oh. Okay, that’s cool, I guess. *sullen* My hope is that these threads come together to turn into something in the next book (Because It Is My Blood, a title that sounds like it was lifted from a 14 year old’s Draco Malfoy-centric fanfiction) but it left this story feeling a little loose.
The romance between Win and Anya isn’t driving enough to keep the plot focused– oh, cute, teenagers in love, tell me more about the gangsters nao plz! The most interesting characters were also the ones seen the least– Mouse, a mute inmate at a children’s facility; Yuji Ono, my new fictional chocolate-making gangster boyfriend who totally has a samurai sword somewhere; Anya’s mobster family. Bad guys aren’t given enough depth to be redeemable (particularly Anya’s ex-boyfriend, who should be called Date-Rape McGee because he spends an awful lot of time being unpleasant and trying to force himself on Anya), but are somehow still redeemed.
I’ve got an ARC of the second book next on my shelf, and I’m really hopeful that with more time, the universe Zavin has created can grow into itself. The potential is all there, the ideas are strong, it’s just in the coming together that the plot has problems; hopefully ones that can be fixed. Because, um, srsly guys– Teenage Girl Mafia Don. How is that not the best idea you’ve ever had?
All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zavin
Rating: Ron Weasley
Readalikes: If you like books about overwrought “the-world-is-on-my-shoulders-because-my-family-situation-sucks” female protagonists, Chime. If you like books about teenagers in the midst of crime families, White Cat.