Series: Birthright, #1
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Pages: 354 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: September 6, 2011
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.
The world Zevin creates is a bit dark but entirely possible. Everyday things we take for granted, such as coffee, chocolate and paper, are illegal. Many other things are strictly rationed: water, candles, fruit. You even need government issued vouchers for ice cream! Not to mention, eight-year olds mug you at gunpoint. However, none of that really matters, and we don't get to see much of what is going on in this new government regime, because everything revolves around the main character.
Anya is 16, a good Catholic, and seriously full of angst! Within the first chapter she goes to a speakeasy (serving coffee), takes some chocolate from the family stash (which her bastard boyfriend swipes), covers her ex-boyfriend with piping hot lasagna, and steals a gun. Her family is also in the mafia, which is what the story mainly focuses on. Anya gets arrested for allegedly poisoning her ex-boyfriend with tainted chocolate. I actually was enjoying the story at that point even though crime dramas aren't my thing.
But as soon as things were getting really interesting and gritty at the juvenile detention center, she gets released and cleared of all charges. This was less than half way into the book, so I had no clue what to expect in the coming pages. I think continuing her accusations and trial would have made a great story, since we'd get more peeks into how the new legal system is, but nope. The plot jumped right back to the illegal chocolate which was losing it's novelty fast, especially when lines like "I must get to the bottom of this matter with the chocolate..." started popping up.
If the timeline had been condensed to just Anya's detainment and trial, this could have been a really great read. It would have given us more insight into how this new world is working, and all of the corruption caused by the chocolate black market. Instead it feels like we're getting a few, small, isolated plots: Anya falsely accused for attempted murder, then almost immediately released. Then it jumps into her secret romance, which a few pages later is no longer secret, and it's like the chocolate conspiracy never happened. Then her romance gets dropped because Grandma dies and Anya and her little sister are left in the care of their older brother Leo. Now this could have also been really interesting, since despite being 19, an accident left Leo with the intellect of an 8-year old, making their situation very sensitive.
Unfortunately, that gets set aside because now Anya is being told she must step up and head her mafia family and run the chocolate business! Then...you guessed it, that gets dropped and the focus goes back to Leo. Each event is completely separate from everything else, and when one new situation appears, it's like everything else never happened. That really frustrated me, but despite all of that, I was intrigued. I don't know if I care enough to continue the series though.
The shelving of this book is also bit misleading. Dystopian? Not so much, unless not getting your morning coffee equals the end of the world. You wouldn't call a book set during Prohibition Dystopian, and this is just like that. Mafia crime drama with chocolate on top? Definitely. Honestly, if the blurb had been the same but without the mentions of illegal coffee and chocolate, I wouldn't have bothered picking this one up.
Oh, and I don't care how illegal and hard to come by chocolate is; it is NOT going to make you show up at someone's door in the middle of the night, spazzing with withdrawals. Unless you're this guy (link to YouTube).