Jul 14, 12
Read in July, 2012
The only major problem with Gabrielle Zevin's All These Things I've Done is the misleading blurb which sets up the misguided reader expectations, and makes you excited for things that aren't even featured prominently in the novel; from the blurb we expect a dystopic future and cunning mafia leaders-both seem to promise non-stop action and suspense, and both are pretty much non-existent. There is no underground conspiracy movement, evil governments, or dueling mafia families. I knew I wasn't going to get my unputdownable, face-paced page-turner, but I stuck it out for the incredible, heart-wrenching characters. All of the characters had a layer of complexity about them-even the hateful ones. I daresay Zevin has created some of the most poignant characters I've ever encountered in YA. Ever. All These Things I've Done may not be the heart-pounding dystopian, but it is a powerful, romantic story about familial love, self respect, prejudice, and making difficult sacrifices.
Dystopic World-building (or lack thereof)
If you're looking for dystopian novel with interesting world-building, this is not your book. If anything society is devolved back to the Great Depression era where everything (including ice cream, coffee, chocolate, paper, and water) is rationed-as for how or why, we don't know. I think All These Things I've Done would be better classified as a contemporary romance (maybe it was classified as a dystopian to the in-crowd?) since technology is at a stand-still, there's nothing "futuristic" about the situation. Anya, the protagonist, is rich off family money anyway, so she isn't in danger of starving anytime soon.
Not as fast as I hoped, it was a hard book to get lost in...especially when you are expecting that action-packed thriller. In fact most of it was about her mundane life and family relations. Yep, definitely not epic dystopian material.
There's an entire spectrum of characters who are each unique individuals with their own story.
Anya (Annie): The protagonist. The story is written from her point of view, as if she is writing a diary while she reflects on the past. Sometimes the story slips into second person to address the reader, which at one point threw me in for a loop, but nothing too disjointed.
Despite her inheritance, life hasn't been easy for Anya, her parents were killed (one in front of her eyes), her grandmother is on her deathbed, her older brother has the mind of an eight year old, and her younger sisters still often wakes up in the middle of the night with nightmares. After a promise to take care of her siblings with her dead father, she takes on the responsibilities of taking care of the family. She's also a Catholic and made a deal with God that as long as her family is safe, she will be "good." She is often scared of breaking that vow.
We can see her love for her father, whose advice she always takes to heart. (Seriously though, did her father spend his time preaching inspirational quotes he found off Google?) A female protagonist who actually cares about her family over her boyfriend, HALLELUJAH! She's not the hopeless romantic, nor the damsel in distress (girl can shoot a gun!), but her family background has made others see her differently: either eager to get out of her way or eager to pamper her. Life has made her skeptical of people.
Win: Anya's love interest. Very sweet guy and hopeless romantic. He is just a nice guy, even though he has a less dramatic outlook on life and doesn't see consequences as Anya does.
Scarlet: Anya's beautiful (but considered "weird" in school), drama queen of a best friend. She has such a kind heart, and is always looking out of her best friend. I find her extremely likable, and if Anya is right-also a bit gullible.
Leo: Anya's older brother. Due to a car crash, he has the mind of an eight-year old. He reminds me of Lenny from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (minus the super strength); he has that same childish quality, yet he tries so hard to be the older brother he was supposed to be. Anyay never quites trust her brother, always cautious of him being manipulated. We can see the people around him trying hard to make him feel important, while he feels everyone is being condescending. He is a poignant character that makes me heart clench whenever I see him. Seeing him trying so desperately to be the grown-up older brother and man of the family, yet knowing that he can't possibly live up to the role makes my heart break.
I am a fan of the romance; we seem them growing closer and closer together throughout the novel until we can't help rooting for them. They are such a swoon-worthy couple, just oozing with sweetness. I wasn't too big on the whole sex thing though, it seems they have no sense of self control. Win is a hopeless romantic while Anya is for being practical. While Anya worries about their familiy's opposition, Win is busy daydreaming about marriage (well, it's clear we side with Anya on that one, but it's nice of Win to think about the future.) It was a well-developed, believable romance, a bit of star-crossed lover drama, but nothing too eventful.
Absolutely perfect! Now this is how characters should be developed. I rarely encounter a novel where such broad array of both main and supporting characters are dynamic and relatable. I'm surprised Zevin achieved with first person narration. Even the characters we dislike are never completely hateful for they have compelling reasons of their own. The first thought when I finished the book was , "that was beautiful."
All These Things I've Done is a character-driven book. Unlike many other dystopian novels, it's the characters that make the story, not the setting.