Review: ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE by Gabrielle Zevin

Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Release Date: Out Now (Sept. 6, 2011)
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MacMillan
Received: Finished copy for review


In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidently poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

I’ve been wanting to read Gabrielle Zevin’s ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE ever since hearing about it back in 2010. I was so excited to finally get my hands on it. The first book in her BIRTHRIGHT trilogy, Zevin’s new novel is full of all things forbidden: the mafia, coffee, and…chocolate? Yes, it’s true! In this world, chocolate and coffee are illegal substances. Would you want to live in such a world? I know I wouldn’t! The mafia is composed of various families that were once chocolate distributors, etc. The main character, Anya Balanchine, is part of the Balanchine clan, makers of the best chocolate in the world. They still sell chocolate illegally and make a fortune off of doing so. Parts of this book really remind me of both Mario Puzo’s THE GODFATHER series and Holly Black’s CURSE WORKER series. The book also has a dystopian flair to it, but in a refreshing change of pace, the characters aren’t trying to break free of and take down a controlling government.

The book starts off with a more mature Anya Balanchine narrating in past tense. The year is currently 2083, and “This was back when caffeine, along with about a million other things, was against the law. So much was illegal (paper without a permit, phones with cameras, chocolate, etc.) and the laws changed so quickly, you could be committing a crime and not even know it” (pg. 3, first US edition). Anya and her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Gable are leaving a coffee speakeasy, having gotten high off coffee (and in Gable’s case, espresso laced with shots of Prozac) and have an argument because Anya wants Gable to leave before the city-wide midnight curfew. Gable, of course, would rather stay and get Anya to feed him chocolate and finally get her into bed. A few nights later, he comes to her begging for chocolate and she gives him two bars from a newly-delivered case. But it turns out the new shipment was poisoned. Gable winds up in the hospital and Anya is sent to Liberty Children’s Facility, where she is treated poorly before her new friend Win gets his dad, the new District Attorney, to free her after it’s discovered that all chocolate has been contaminated, not just Anya’s personal shipment. From here, the story really picks up speed. Anya is falling for Win, but his hotshot DA father doesn’t want his son with the daughter of a notorious crime lord. This adds a little bit of a ROMEO AND JULIET spin to the story. In addition, strange things begin occurring within the Family, and deceit and betrayal linger in the air. Anya no longer knows who to trust or why the Family is suddenly interested in her mentally handicapped older brother Leo. Anya wants to protect her siblings and her grandmother and keep everyone safe, but she no longer knows who to trust, and things will get far worse before they have a chance of getting better.

ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE packs a powerful punch. It starts off slowly, but by the final 2/3rds of the book, I was hooked and knew I wanted to continue on with the BIRTHRIGHT series. Some readers have mentioned a lack of world-building in that they never knew “why” certain contraband was considered to be illegal, but there are still two books to come, so this doesn’t bother me so much. We had everything we needed. The characters are strongly developed and it’s easy to get attached to them. At times, this first book is very much developing everything we’ll need to know going into the second book, which is why I think it has a slower start. There’s so much world-building to do, from creating character motivation and letting readers know who everyone is to building Family ties. I have a feeling the next book will have a steadier pacing that doesn’t wait until the end to throw its final punch. Zevin has a much more mature writing style that’s easy to fall in love with and I look forward to reading more of her novels soon.


You might be surprised since the cover is so understated, but this is one of my favorite designs of the year. This is one classy cover. It stands out because it looks so different. I love the shiny red, the beautiful chocolate heart that looks real enough to eat (despite its drippy imperfections as it falls apart) and the way there’s pale gray in the background telling the prospective reader more about what lies within. I love the wax-like texture to the dust jacket that reminds me of a bar of chocolate and the way that when you pull out the flap, it looks like candy bar packaging. But most of all, I adore the way there’s a second hidden cover when you take off the dust jacket, making the who book look like a bar of chocolate. The coolest part of THAT is the fact that the chocolate is Balanchine Special Dark. Main character Anya Balanchine’s family produces chocolate and her favorite type was always Special Dark. (Me too, dark chocolate is my favorite!) This cover is genius, but don’t take my word for it…I filmed the cover for you to enjoy!

YouTube Link


  1. This is a great review! I liked your point about the world building needed to set up a trilogy affecting what information we get when - with regard to WHY chocolate/caffeine is outlawed.

    I seriously loved this book, and I really can't wait for the sequel. Anya was one of those heroines that I just couldn't get enough of!

  2. Oh that's really funny, the cover to me was the turn off to this story. To each his own I guess, lol.

    I've read a few review on this one, mostly ones which say bleh or its ok. So yours was the first one which caught my interest. It sounds like a really creative and different sort of storyline. I think I'm up for it. I can get it an the digital library. I'm going to add it to my wish list. Thanks for the great review.

  3. It definitely took me a while to get into this story but once I did, I was wholeheartedly invested. Can't wait for the second part to find out what is going on with Anya and everyone!
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