Title: Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin
Release date: September 18th 2012 by Pan Macmillan
Age group: Young adult
Grade rate: A
“Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in.”- Michael Corleone, The Godfather Freed from jail, Anya hopes that things will get back to normal. But life on the outside is even more dangerous than life behind bars. Some of her gangland family want revenge for the crime for which she has done time: the shooting of her uncle. Forced to flee the country, Anya hides out in a cacao plantation in Mexico. There she learns the secrets of the chocolate trade, a trade that is illegal and deadly in her native New York. There too she discovers that seemingly random acts of violence carried out across the world have a single target: her family. As innocent bystanders get caught in the crossfire Anya must act fast and decisively to stop it, no matter what the danger to herself. Anya Balanchine is back. Released from prison and determined to make a new start, she’s finally been reunited with her family - but not of all them are pleased to see her. Self-imposed exile is her only way to remain safe, but even in the far flung cacao plantations of Mexico danger seems to follow her around. Anya soon realizes that hiding isn’t enough: she has to make a stand, stop the violence, or die trying.
Anya has always been a stand out YA heroine for me. Fearless and passionate, she demonstrates an extraordinary survival instinct with every choice she makes – and, because of who she is, where she comes from and what she’s done, those choices are never easy.
I’ll admit that it’s a long time since I read All These Things I’ve Done. In fact, when I eventually got my hands on Because It Is My Blood, I’d forgotten most of what happened in the first book. Make no mistake, there are no detailed recaps or flashbacks in this sequel, so I’d recommend reading both close together, while the love is strong and the memories fresh.
The plot of Because It Is My Blood, however, strikes with immediate and unforgettable force. Someone’s ordered a hit that could affect those closest to Anya’s heart – her sister Natty and her brother Leo. For Anya, this a potent reminder that the name Balanchine is synonymous with murder. From then on it’s a frantic chase to find the culprit and solve the mystery before more deaths ensue.
I loved this display of fierce and confident writing on Zevin’s part. She’s always written with distinctive style, embodied by the rich, dark tones of this her most famous series, but if ever there was a moment of “She did NOT just go there!” awe in this book, that’d be it.
As well as keeping the killer totally under wraps until that last shocking reveal, family drama also takes centre stage in this book. Characters like Mikhail feature heavily and friends like Scarlet and Gable make a (mostly) welcome return. When action takes over, Zevin manages to keep up the tension and shoot the story forward at a rocketing pace. Granted this kind of gun-toting threat-soaked action only really kicks off at a very late stage in the book, but I’m glad I stuck with it. Sometimes, patience – like crime – pays when it comes to the inner workings of this trilogy.
Patience, too, is the quality that defines Anya’s potential new love interest, Theo. Long-time readers of this series will know that from the start, off-limits love Win has been the centre of Anya’s romantic dealings, but lost in the tempestuous heat and fevered hills of Mexico, she has a boy of a different type entirely on her mind. Mexico is the root source of the illegal chocolate Anya’s family have a hold over in New York, so her and Theo’s lives are very much interconnected – even if they don’t see eye to eye at first.
Of course, there’s the ever-tricky Yuji Ono to contend with here as well, but for me, Theo was fantastic. He’s such a contrast to Win, who I’ve never personally been endeared by, and I only wished that their relationship had gone further. There’s a definite sense that the author is loyal to her original personification of the love Anya craves, but she does make an effort to change things up a bit here. Win has a new girlfriend and seems to have moved on from Anya – though there is always the question of “What if?” hanging between them. In a way I adored the complex mess of feelings these two share, but it looks like we’ll have to wait until book three to find out if they have any hope of getting a happily ever after – although if Win’s politician father and Anya’s Mafia family have anything to do with it, I’m not sure it’s very likely…
In short: Set in a futuristic world where chocolate is illegal and everyone has an ulterior motive, Anya Balanchine returns with a vengeance in the second book of one of the most unique young adult trilogies on the block. Fuelled by danger and characterised by its impassioned, unique narrative style, this is one book that’s going to keep you hooked whether you like it or not.