Anya is the orphaned daughter of the former head of the Balanchine family, infamous as one of the big-five families that supply chocolate to the populace despite its prohibition. Due to her family, her life has been filled with crime and even murder, but her own focus lies in taking care of her younger sister and her older brother, whose acquired brain injury makes him younger than his physical years. Anya’s life is fairly routine until the new Assistant DA’s son, Win, arrives at her school. When she falls for Win, however, she finds herself caught between protecting her family and protecting her heart.
I wasn’t sure whether I would like All These Things I’ve Done. The Australian cover is gorgeous, but I have never been a fan of fiction centred around the Mafia, whether in film or book form. It doesn’t hold the allure for me that it does for so many others. However, the focus of this novel is not upon the criminal activities of Anya’s extended family but, rather, upon her relationships with her immediate family members and budding romance with Win. Indeed, the normalcy of a good proportion of All These Things I’ve Done means that it is a book that should be enjoyed by lovers of contemporary YA fiction, despite its futuristic setting and crime-based plot.
For a book that focusses on a Mafiya family, All These Things I’ve Done is surprisingly low-key. While it easily retains the reader’s interest, Gabrielle Zevin accomplishes this not through constant action or page-turning suspense but, rather, through cleverly rendered characters who you can’t help but want to read more about.
Personally, I found Anya the easy stand-out. She is strong and independent and extremely aware of her responsibilities, but is not without her weaknesses as well. Zevin has created a character who truly reads like a sixteen-year-old who has been the protector of her siblings for several years, which is no small feat. Anya combines duty and mature insight with a tendency towards rash behaviour that exposes her youth at times. Above all, however, she is likeable and easy to identify with, despite her unusual upbringing.
All that said, it is Win who will likely prove the favourite of many readers. Kind, devoted and good-looking, he is just the type of romantic interest to gain a large following. For those who are not smitten by Win, Anya’s childhood crush, Yuji Ono, provides an intriguing alternative. I, for one, hope that we’ll see a lot more of him in the rest of the series!
I wasn’t entirely sure about Anya’s best friend, Scarlet, however. It’s hard to give my reasoning without spoilers, but her later alliance with someone who wronged Anya dreadfully towards the beginning of the book seemed unconvincing to me. Certainly, it wasn’t an action of the loyal friend she is painted as – and I’m not sure it sends a good message to Zevin’s readers. It will be interesting to see what comes of this plot point in later books.
Although it is the first book in the Birthright series, All These Things I’ve Done is surprisingly self-contained. While a few threads are left untied, in order to entice readers to continue with the series, those who do not read on will not feel robbed of a satisfactory (if not entirely happy) conclusion to the novel.
There is no reason not to continue reading, however. All These Things I’ve Done is a solid new offering from Gabrielle Zevin that is sure to appeal to a broad range of readers.
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)