Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review - ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE

All These Things I've Done (Birthright, #1) - Gabrielle Zevin
Genre: YA Futuristic Contemporary/Dystopian
Publisher: Macmillan
Source: ARC
(BEA)
Recommended for: Older Teens & Up



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.


All These Things I've Done was quite a roller-coaster book for me, a total whirlwind of emotions. First and foremost, I want to figuratively shoot off spitwads at the above synopsis, because it makes the book sound like an exciting dystopian. This book reads like a futuristic contemporary novel in a quasi-dystopian world. There's nothing really wrong with that, except that it may lead to some disappointed/disengaged readers expecting something else. Just a word of caution, from someone who feels more than a little duped by the enticing synopsis.

My feelings for this book can be seen in my Goodreads status updates:
"Yes, I'm less than 100 pages in, and yes, I am a pretty wary/skeptical reader...those things said, I really think this book is shaping up to be something I can add to the 'Best I've Read' category. Very, very solid start."

"Again, I'm not finished so I don't wanna speak too soon, but...I really think this is going to be one of the BEST books of 2011!!"

and then finally:
"See, THIS is why I don't like to get all excited about books before I'm done with them. In just 1 chapter, this went from extraordinarily good to...kinda crappy, I'm sorry to say."

*Le plummet.*

To be honest, the only reason I was initially engaged in the book is because I liked Anya and her family. The mob elements exist peripherally until the last 50 or so pages, then that whole element came together. If you're going into All These Things I've Done expecting some complex, mafia world akin to the Curse Workers series, you may find yourself underwhelmed.
The worldbuilding is practically nonexistent, and for any book that touts itself as a dystopian, that's not good. Chocolate and caffeine have been outlawed, with little to no explanation as to why. I struggled to suspend my disbelieve that a society would attack caffeine but leave out alcohol. I mean...really? Explain to me how caffeinated coffeehouse, hand-snapping beatniks are more deviant and dangerous than angry drunks, seriously. So I never felt particularly drawn to the plot, because all things considered, there really was none. This is primarily the story of a deceased mob boss's daughter trying to make her way in the world. And that's cool, but this reads more like a futuristic contemporary novel. Dystopians usually need a little more engagement. There were some interesting elements, but mostly the plot didn't come full-swing until the last 50 or so pages. By then, I'd checked out.

So the only thing this book really had going for it was characterization. I loved the main character, Anya, because she seemed so different from the multitude of girls I often encounter in YA lit. She had a maturity that I crave in characters. She seemed grounded, and while she wasn't religious in the personal devotion, private faith sort of way, she had a moral code/set of values that she clung to. And that made me all kinds of happy. But what happens when that's taken away? With me, Zevin quite abruptly withdrew the one major positive I had with this book, the one thing that really had me caring, the one thing that made any sort of personal connection with me. I may lose some readers with the whole religion/values thing (Anya consistently identifies herself as a Catholic), but what I didn't like, that I think may resonate with others, is this picture Zevin drew of a girl who goes from being responsible and a caretaker to her family, to making some boy the center of her world. And I guess that was the last straw (that, and the rather descriptive sexual content that made me, a grownup, pretty uncomfortable).
A basic, forward-moving plot was hardly existent, there wasn't a lot of action, so the whole likability of this book rested on the characters. And for me, Zevin destroyed the main character's credibility. It made Anya's somewhat preachy declarations and internal monologues about her beliefs seem like nothing but talk. And the love interest, Win, had almost no likability with me. He came across as practically manipulative in an emotionally pushy sort of way.

So that's what nagged at me as I struggled to finish this. It's like watching a strong, self-assured character turn codependent. I do want admit that Anya attempts to regain the proactive, strong personality by the end of the novel, but by then, I had just checked out.

What I also realized (I obviously didn't notice this from the synopsis, which was my bad) is that ATTID is really a retelling of 'Romeo and Juliet' with a semi-dystopian backdrop. Since I've already biased up this review, I might as well admit that I think 'Romeo and Juliet' is one of the LEAST ROMANTIC stories of all time, so I am definitely not one to buy into the whole 'starcrossed lovers make the best lovers' idea. And the ending of this book really sets up for more 'Romeo and Juliet'esque drama. Secret relationships. And the whole 'I really love you but I'm going to act like I hate you to protect you!' is just hogwash storytelling, in my opinion. I most likely will not be catching the sequel.

I'm just sad at how this book turned out. I was squee-happy when I nabbed a copy at BEA, and when I started out reading this, I loving it so much. I predict that the main issue other readers will have will be with 1) the lack of a truly solid plot, and/or 2) the lack of truly solid dystopian elements. I doubt most readers will share my disappointment regarding characters. And Zevin's prose is absolutely beautiful. I think that if some characterization elements were taken out, and if more attention had been given to the dystopian setting, this book would have been absolutely phenomenal.
(Due to strong language and sexual content, I would recommend this book for older readers only)


And if anyone is interested trading for my copy, please email me at
imaginefocusedreviews@gmail.com

4 shout-outs!:

Jillian said...

Sorry it was a bit of a disappointment for you. It sure sounds like an interesting plot, but that's a bummer that it seems like there's no distinct story line.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Sad to hear. I haven't had much luck with Zevin's work in the past myself.

StephTheBookworm said...

Oh bummer! I think I'll still give it a go at some point.

Stephanie said...

Very well-written review. I think your complaints about the inconsistent characterization that came from the MC's religious flip-flopping are totally legitimate. I wish there were more books with religious themes, but it can be very difficult to do well. If you mess it up, you're just left with inauthentic characters who could offend a lot of readers. I think that's probably why so few authors attempt to write religious characters!

 
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