“There were two things I didn’t tell Natty.
First, I would kill anyone who tried to hurt her or Leo.
And second, I wasn’t brave. I had bad dreams, too. More nights with than without. Unlike Natty, I had mastered the art of screaming inside my head.”
What will the world look like 72 years from now? Do gleaming, towering monoliths come to mind, putting to shame the measly skyscrapers we find awe-inspiring today? Spotless streets, every car a fuel-efficient hybrid, a smart phone that can brew your Starbucks beverage of choice remotely? If so, you’re in for a rude awakening. It’s 2083, and blatant corruption has bled back into New York City government, creating a breeding ground for heightened crime and poverty. There is a city-wide curfew for minors, museums are rarer than a $2 bill, and as for those remotely-brewed espressos? Not likely, as coffee–and chocolate–are now illegal.
People are sometimes surprised to hear that I am an avid fan of the Godfather trilogy–or perhaps moreso that it was my mother who introduced me to it–but it’s true, I’ve seen the films more times than I can count. The themes of loyalty, fierce friendship, and self-sacrificing love have always struck deep chords within me, and Zevin’s novel captured all three with unerring accuracy. Anya Balanchine, at sixteen years old, carries considerable weight on her shoulders: orphaned at six, she must look after her Natty, her younger sister, and Leo, her mentally stunted older brother. Their grandmother is ill; bedridden and feeble, and Anya accepts her responsibilities readily, with the solemn air of one twice her age. But between her vile ex-boyfriend, familial drama, and Win Delacroix, with his soft blue eyes and disarming smile, can she maintain her role in the family while following her heart?
Much like like the world she’s created, Zevin’s writing is stark, unvarnished. Life for these teenagers seems somehow devoid of the spark and color that dominate ours today. In fact, the dialogue itself seemed to me a bit odd at times, antiquated, even, before I realized that this was just following the natural order of culture, of language: appropriating subtle nuances and turns of phrase from decades past, re-folding them smoothly into modern speech. I laughed outloud when Anya’s grandmother, frail and wrinkled as can be, used the term “OMG” in a sentence, then needing to clarify for the puzzled teens, translated, “Oh my God…Life used to move much more quickly when I was a girl. We needed to abbreviate just to keep up.” (pg. 227)
Cultural commentary aside, I found the book profoundly entertaining; Anya’s journey reeling me in, inch by inch, with every page turned. In light of the illegality of two of America’s favorite substances, caffeine addicts and endorphin seekers must now trawl the black market for reputable suppliers, and it is the latter product that Anya’s family produces: Balanchine Special Dark, to be precise. The enormity of her struggles are only outweighed by the gravitas with which she meets them, the Don Corleone-esque wisdom of her murdered father ever-present in her mind, acting as a guiding light. Anya is not perfect, far from it, but her single-minded determination to protect her family at all costs is what creates a truly moving tale. Don’t just take my word for it, though; once you begin reading, you’ll discover All These Things I’ve Done is an offer you can’t refuse.
Rating: 5/5–For achingly tender teenage romance, heart-stopping drama, and gratuitous lasagna.
Recommended For: Anyone understands the significance of the phrase “go to the mattresses”, but especially those who don’t.
All These Things I’ve Done, Gabrielle Zevin, Farrar Strauss Giroux, New York, NY, 2011.