Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why Anya Balanchine Is So Great: or All These Things I've Done - Gabrielle Zevin

All These Things I've Done (Birthright, #1)


GoodreadsIn 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.

Engrossing and suspenseful, All These Things I've Done is an utterly unique, unputdownable read that blends both the familiar and the fantastic.


Aside:   Still, you may find yourself asking, What of Leo's job? What of the contaminated chocolate supply? What of Nana's health and Natty's nightmares?  Just because Annie has a delicious new boyfriend she can't possibly think that's a good excuse to go around ignoring everything and everyone else in the world.

Scarlet:  "But it's not the easiest thing in the world being your best friend either.  And I think I've been there for you through a lot of bad times haven't I?  So when something good happens to you, I'd like to know about it.  I'd like to be there for some of the happy times too."


When I first started reading this in December, I hit a big reviewing slump.  It's not that I didn't want to talk about them - I just only wanted to talk about certain parts of them.  This is especially true about books that are rereads (which this book is), which is why I have so few reviews for rereads on the site (a grand total of 2!) in comparison to what I reread (which I rarely keep track of, but it's easily a quarter of what I read).

Then I realized...what exactly is stopping me from just talking about the characters if that's what I want to do?  And the answer is nothing.  I'm not sure if I'm going to give this idea a title or not, but as of this moment I'm going to talk about all the reasons why Anya Balanchine is one of the most fantastic female heroines in YA literature.  Be aware that while my focus is on this book, spoilers for the other books (and this one) may appear.  You have been warned!

Anya Balanchine is one of the best example of what a real "strong female character" is.  No, she isn't an expert swordsman or know crazy karate moves (although she does chop off a guy's hand with a machete at one point during the series which is pretty awesome).  Anya has become orphaned at a young age, her older brother was in a car accident which caused him to become intellectually disabled, and her grandmother (who is the caretaker) is dying.  Anya has to run the whole household, while being very careful to make sure that no one finds out, or they will take her siblings away from her.  What makes her strong is not only her ability to do all this while refusing any extra help, but also how unsteady she feels all the time.  This is a time when reading a story in first person really helps.  She never acts vulnerable around other people if she can help it, but as you read, you discover just how terrified she is that everything is going to fall apart.  THAT is what makes an awesome strong female character - having a truly well-thought out character, with real flaws as well as strength, whether it's physical, mental, or emotional.

This is where Win comes in.  Win's father is the A.D.A's son.  Anya's father was the head of the mafia, so she already has a reputation.  She can't allow anyone close to her, especially not the A.D.A's son in case they take her family away from her.  Despite this, they fall in love and everything is hunky dory until things happen.  Win's father, Charles Delacroix, cuts her a deal - she must break up with Win, or she goes to jail and her family is put into foster care.  Anya deals with this the way I'd expect people in the real world to deal with it.  She honestly weighs what is important in life, and it doesn't take her long to take this deal.  While she loves Win and is going to feel miserable without him, he is not more important than her family or her own freedom.  Win is not more important than other people's lives.  She doesn't whinge on for chapters about life is unfair and how she can never be happy because of things like this.  Life has always been unfair for Anya - that's just how it is, there's no point in continuing to dwell on it.  Instead of worrying herself into a worthless dither, she takes charge of her destiny.  She knows her entire happiness does not hinge on a life with Win.  It hinges on being in control of her life, and being able to provide for the people who are most important to her.  Having Win in her life would be wonderful, but simply not practical if she has to pit herself against his very powerful father.  This is a huge reason as to why I LOVE Anya!  Romantic love does not always conquer all, and there are things much more important than said concept.  I love reading YA, it's obviously what I primarily read, but I don't relate to a lot of the main characters because there is often a huge emphasis on the importance of romantic love - to the detriment of everything else.  Including your own life.  (I'm looking at YOU Everneath!) 

Anya's values line up exactly with my own.  She prizes loyalty and family above all else, and those are what I would rank most important to me as well.  In the beginning when her best friend Scarlet is crushing on Win, Anya makes it clear she doesn't want him, and will never go for him.  And it's not like it is in every other book I've read with this situation (Yes, YOU, The Forsaken)  - she really is not interested in making a move, is not secretly longing for him.  He might seem like a boy she could like, but Scarlet likes him, and she doesn't know the boy, so that's that.  Scarlet is her best friend in the world (and one of my absolute favourite characters), and nothing is more important than that.  It is ONLY because Scarlet has made it clear that she acknowledges that Win will never be into her and that she thinks Anya could use a guy like Win, that Anya even tempts the idea of liking Win.

I could do a whole post just on all the reasons I love Scarlet, but I figured as the main character (and also because I spent the whole book cheering on how AWESOME Anya is), Anya gets priority.  But if there is one thing that I could name as my favourite part of this book, it would definitely be Scarlet and Anya's friendship.  It is so refreshing when I find friendships that are:

A.  Actually friends, not secretly backstabbing each other
B.  The friend is a person, not a cardboard cut out to sound off of each other
C.  And most rare, the friend is an integral part to the main character's life

Scarlet and Anya are complete opposites - Scarlet is beyond optimistic, always believes in Win and Anya as a relationship, and is out for some fun trouble-making.  And it's not just Scarlet being a doormat for Anya.  The quote Scarlet gives in my quotes section is one of my favourite quotes of the book.  Scarlet doesn't back down when she believes in something, and this shows up throughout the story - even if it pits her against her best friend.  But when it comes down to it, she and Anya are there for each other no matter what happens.  When it comes to Scarlet, Anya will be confidante, wingman, or defender of character and reputation.   They are really good for each other - Anya keeps Scarlet grounded, and Scarlet makes sure Anya doesn't condemn herself to a grim life. 

And these are all the reasons why Anya is one of my all-time favourite heroines (followed closely by Scarlet).  Have any of you read this series?  Who did you love?  I already know Mitchii's answer, but I'm curious to know what the rest of you thought! 


  1. Yes, yes, and yeeeesss!!! Persuade them to read this awesome series. I love and hate and love Anya, and for me that's make her special . Although you do know who my favorite character is (where my loyalty and heart lies). *winks, winks* Great review!

  2. I definitely agree. I'd switch between "Oh my god Anya is SO. AWESOME" to "NO YOU IDIOT DON'T BE SO DUMB!" In a loving way of course. Because I do love her character :)

    I don't know if I told you my favourite love interest or not, but that's my next post muahaha

  3. No, you haven't but I have an inkling on who he might be. ;)

  4. Awesome assessment. I always say that some traits are people's best and worst traits. In this case, Anya strength is her best and her worst trait. It makes her incredible resilient, but it also makes it hard for her to accept help or to let people in. I love that she is a real character with strengths and faults. And thank you for calling out Everneath. I'm still working out my feelings on that one.

  5. You are so good at summing up what I was trying to say for a paragraph and never succeeded haha. Yes. THAT. That is exactly what I mean.

    I can not understand people loving Everneath. I can understand being hooked despite your brain's better judgement and having to read the rest of the series anyway because it's addicting, but it's on so many people's favourite reads! It's the first time I've ever felt this flabbergasted in a while haha

  6. I liked Everneath, but it definitely wasn't my favorite. It's a bit too...angsty and wispy for me to LURVE it. The MC really needs to get her act together. I'll read the final book because I've read the others, but I'm not psyched about it really. One book that I'm embarrassed to admit I read...and liked...was The Selection. It kills me that I like it! Why?! It has everything in it that I hate about YA, let I'm more excited about the third book coming out this year than the third book of Everneath. Sigh.

  7. DEFINITELY with the MC. I'm interested to see where the second book goes as I ended up having to return that to library before I got a chance to read it.

    You are not alone with The Selection from what I hear haha. I've not read it, but most of the bloggers I follow have and a lot of them are like..I don't like it...but I must finish it! Although your description of feelings on that more closely mirror mine on Everneath haha

  8. I like Anya, I really do, she is an awesome character. The only thing I
    have against the book is that I spent the entire book wanting to see
    Anya just accept her heritage, and Pound Win's dad with criminal
    connections. I've only read the first book, but Anya seems like an
    extremely pragmatic person (I loved that about her) so I spent a lot of
    time wondering why she doesn't use all of her assets. It's fairly
    obvious that she's connected to a relatively powerful criminal
    organization, why doesn't she use it. Win's father may be immune to corruption, but I guarantee you that those around him aren't, a bribe here, some blackmail there, and suddenly Ana's untouchable as far as the DA's office is concerned. The school issues could be solved by just leaning on the right people. I get how Anya is trying to be the normal good girl, but in all honesty being bad is far more fun. I haven't read the next few books yet, but I would love to see Anya rise up and claim her birthright as Lady of the Mafiya, burning the enemies that stand in her way. Sadly, I sincerely doubt I'll get to see that though, books always seem to treat criminal syndicates as something to get away from, not something to embrace (as you can tell, I love a good villain protagonist). Ah well, back to H.I.V.E. I suppose

  9. I think a lot of it is her determination to not be associated with that side of her family at all and I guess it trumps her pragmatism. It's been a while since I read the book, but I think I remember her being totally against it, but that might have been just her overly protective about Leo being involved at all? But I think it stems from her parents murder and for Anya Mob = Dead people I care about. I will be both disappointed and ok with what she does in the next two books? I don't want to give anything away :)

    (I've heard H.I.V.E. is going to play a big part in Arrow season 4! I've only seen what's on Netflix which I think is season 1 and 2? I haven't seen whatever is currently on, so I guess I'll find out when I get there!)


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