The first novel in Gabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series, All These Things I’ve Done, is a simply stunning read. Set in the future in a terrifying world where caffeine is illegal, meaning no coffee and no chocolate, this novel is a brilliant mediation on legacy, inheritance, first love and crime. For me, it had everything I could want from a novel.
One of the most striking details about this novel is the fact caffeine is illegal; certainly for me it was the most horrifying. I am a complete coffee addict and love a bit of chocolate in moderation so the idea of not being able to have a latte or chocolate again scared me in a way it probably shouldn’t have. Paper is also rationed and I love notebooks and hardcopy books so was very ill at ease in Anya’s world.
While the setting sounds dystopian, I have to say that this novel read to me more like a fantastic contemporary novel, just set in the near future, than a straightforward dystopian. The caffeine ban instead reminded me of prohibition and also strangely A Clockwork Orange as the Russian names just instantly set up that similarity in my mind.
Anya is the daughter of a murdered crime boss and lives with her dying grandmother and immediate siblings. This novel for me was as much about her coming to terms with her legacy and inheritance- of potential mafiaesque family leader as about the romance between her and Win or anything else. By the end of this book I can truly say Anya has matured significantly and made sacrifices in order to protect those she loves. Family, the bonds that bind it, and our family’s reputation and inheritance are wonderfully explored by Zevin and a highlight of the novel. In particular, the complicated relationship between Anya and her brother, Leo, who was left somewhat mentally disabled after a childhood accident and with the overall mentality of a child. Zevin captured Leo’s conflict with his condition and subsequent treatment and what would be his role as the eldest member of the family and protective instincts in a poignant and visceral way.
The forbidden romance may be a time-old trope, but with it’s Godfather-esque shadows to the star-crossed lovers, I found it very engaging and was not put off by it’s use. The ending in particular left me desperate for more from Win and Anya in the next addition.
The crime aspect to this novel, where Anya is accused of committing of a murder, was well written and engaging. I loved how it developed and the quasi-dystopian setting fitted into this. Also while this aspect seemed to be resolved at one point, I love that it kept coming into play with the plot developments and was not just discarded by the author.
On a more superficial note, I really loved the proof cover for this novel which I received (the green cover on the left) but this was changed for the final retail copy to the one on the right. While I may go against a lot of bloggers in saying this, I did prefer the first cover but can see how the second cover may work more for the setting of the novel.
As I said before this is a novel that is dystopian/futuristic in setting, but grounded in the tradition of great contemporary novels, with a twist of crime and Godfatheresque characters. This is a book not to be missed by YA fans and non-YA readers alike!
I received a proof copy from Macmillan UK in exchange for my honest review. Thank you so much to the publishers for the opportunity to read and review this book, I loved it!