In a future New York City, though 16-year-old Anya Balanchine hangs out with her best friend Scarlet and does most of the things regular teenagers do, Anya’s real focus is on caring for her family. Her Nana (and legal guardian) slips in and out of lucidity and is confined to her bed. Her older brother Leo, now an adult, should be the one worrying about dinner and keeping tabs on his sisters, but in the shooting that killed their mother, Leo was hurt. After suffering brain-damage, Leo now acts like a child, and Anya must protect him, not the other way around. Anya also worries about her younger sister Nataliya (Natty). Natty’s not street-smart like Anya. And even at fourteen, Natty still has horrible nightmares about their father’s murder. Anya and Natty were under his desk playing when a gunman entered his study and shot him. The murder was never solved.
And then there’s the other family Anya must worry about— her semya—or the Balanchine Family crime syndicate. As the daughter of the late Leonyd Balanchine, Sr., Anya is the true heir to her family’s international chocolate business. But as chocolate is illegal in the US, and Anya has no desire to enter the life that killed her parents and injured her brother, she’s mostly steering clear of her Uncle Yuri who runs the Family in her father’s place. A trip or two to her Family’s coffee speakeasy and the chocolate shipments they receive at home are Anya’s only regular connection to the illegal chocolate business.
Anya has everything under control. Her brother has a steady job that he loves. Her sister does well in school and stays out of trouble. And they have everything set up for Leo to take over as guardian to his sisters if her grandmother should die before Anya turns 18.
Then, of course, things fall apart. A break-up with her boyfriend turns sour and Anya realizes her choice of boyfriends was less-than poor. Leo loses his job and begins spending time at the Pool—the Family’s headquarters—against Anya’s wishes. And then worst of all, two chocolate bars she gives her ex turn out to be poisoned. Anya is arrested for his attempted murder and sent to a juvenile correctional facility. Who will take care of her brother and sister if she’s in prison? Add to her problems a romance with the ambitious district attorney’s son, and Anya quickly finds herself desperate to maintain the peace she’s struggled to win for her family.
In this first book in her Birthright series, author Gabrielle Zevin introduces a not-too-future New York City where crime is rampant, cars are scarce, paper requires a permit, and alcohol is not restricted, but chocolate and coffee are illegal. Unlike other books set in the future, this New York is easy to imagine and place yourself in. It’s a world we recognize as our own, with only a few quirks thrown in to paint a new reality. Anya’s grit and determination make her a likeable character. Her life experiences give her a maturity beyond her years. But it’s easy to see her teenage passion shining through the armor she’s had to acquire. In the end, you be the judge. Should Anya be forgiven for her choices and—as she puts it—“all these things I’ve done?”
Once you’re finished with All These Things I’ve Done, you’ll be clamoring for the second installment in the Birthright series. And you’re in luck. Because It Is My Blood comes out on September 18, 2012.
Review by Erin, CLP-Allegheny