Anya Balanchine has a lot of responsibilities. As the orphaned oldest daughter of a mafiya boss, with only her bedridden grandmother for a guardian, she is surrogate mother for her brain-damaged older brother Leo and younger sister Natty. She tries to keep all of them out of the family business, but of course she can’t stay under the radar forever… especially when she falls in love with the son of New York’s new top cop.
What I left out is that the Balanchines don’t deal in drugs; they deal in chocolate. This story takes place in 2083, when chocolate and coffee are criminalized as scapegoats for a failing country. Zevin makes 72 years in the future feel entirely believable — no wild flights of technology, just hints at the post-peak oil decay (rationed food and paper; no production of new clothes so everyone wears hand-me-downs; books pulped to make “essentials” like toilet paper because everyone reads electronically anyway).
This is not post-apocalyptic: there’s been no apocalypse, no moment of disaster. Everyone will probably call it dystopian because that’s the buzzword of the moment, but it’s not: there is no attempt at utopia. There’s just the corruption, crime, and poverty we already have, taken up a few notches — barely perceptible when seen through Anya’s eyes, who is well provided for. There is no overall sense, as in Hunger Games, that this world sucks. This is more like Bumped — a world that seems normal to its teenagers, but more than a little off to us.
Anya is one of my favorite heroines in recent memory. She’s tough, snarky, and pragmatic, above all. She falls in love with Win despite her best resistance; he is the romantic in the relationship. She remains a clear-eyed realist with no illusions that love will conquer all. In a field of dreamy romances, that was unbelievably refreshing.
(Less refreshing is that it is, of course, the start of a series. Can’t anybody write stand-alones anymore? But I’m dying to hang out with Anya, Natty, Leo, and Win again, so I can’t complain too much.)
Zevin’s Elsewhere is one of my long-time fall-backs: I have yet to meet an adolescent girl who didn’t love it. And when they get a little older, they love Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, too. This is offbeat enough that it might not have quite the same universal appeal, but I’m sure many of my students will be huge fans.
ARC generously provided by the publicist.