Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin

Y'know, despite the fact that the premise of this series hinges on the fact that there is such a thing as a chocolate prohibition, I have to admit, it's a good choice of a substance to prohibit. Like chocolate, I liked this book, gobbled it up, and then was left feeling with a vague sense of queasiness.

Anya is let go from juvie, but her brief stint there has left her with more enemies than friends. Forced by circumstance to flee to Mexico, she learns more about cocoa farming, why chocolate was prohibited, and a little about herself as well. Then... more stuff happens.

Quite honestly, even if I literally just finished reading this, it's hard for me to come up with an adequate summary. Anya remains as reluctant a protagonist as ever and while there are books where that's a good thing, here it means she doesn't so much as come up with solutions as she stumbles onto them. Frankly, the whole series so far has felt like one big story that has been split into three book, which is weird because I don't think I've ever encountered a YA where dialogue has been condensed so often.

That's not to say it's a bad story - like I said, I gobbled it up, staying waaaaaaay too late on a Sunday night because I wanted to know what happened to these characters, how they would solve things, etc. Not just Anya, either - Nattie, Scarlett, even Gable add to the experience. And Theo! Oh, Theo! (Get used to this exclamation.)

I guess what I really love about Zevin's writing is how controlled it is. There is lots of unpredictability, but it doesn't veer off into ridiculous territory, which is a harder balance to strike than it appears. The characters never feel out of character - even when they throw curveballs your way, you're not surprised that they have, it just feels like something they might do. I like how Anya has only one love interest, despite the plot lending itself to all sorts of geometrical configurations. I like that Gable is seen as a mixture of sweet and horrible, and how realistic he feels (despite being a disgusting privileged little snit.) 

I like how the book portrays a close friendship between two people of opposing sexes and genders without it devolving into a romantic relationship. I like how it hits a few beats on how hard it can be when a family pushes their expectations onto you. I like how we have a male character whose feelings towards a girl don't start and end with "How do I sex this thing?" (oh, Theo.) I like that we have a character who is self-depicting and funny and deliberately ridiculous, but who doesn't need to pat himself on the back for every semi-intelligent thing he says.

I even like that Anya is portrayed as religious. I didn't realize it until I read this series, but YA is quite... agnostic, isn't it? Lots of the paranormal series of yore were quite careful to skirt around the G-word and kept religious references down to sexy angels and the occasional odd motivation tactic to prolong the chastity porn in Twilight  (well, among other things.) The only series that I've read so far and were right on the bat with their religion were Halo and Angel, with varying degrees of success. 

But the Birthright series is not a PNR, it's... speculative/dystopian fiction. Anya's religion is a personal choice, motivation, and while it does fuel some chastity porn in the first book, it's clear that she is honestly committed to her religion in more ways than one. Also, throughout the books, she has been forced to re-examine her stances on certain things, and reflects on how the events of her life hold up against the teachings of Catholicism, and hey, look, intelligent character building! I like!

You know what I don't like, though? Stereotypes. Despite having some pretty memorable main and secondary characters, Because It Is My Blood also features such stereotypes as the deceiving viper, the sainted mother, the over-protective Mexican family, the tye-dye wearing, pot-smoking activists... seriously, why did the Cocoa Now movement have to be such a joke? In a book full of interesting, nuanced characters, why did this group of characters need to be like that?

All in all, it's a good sequel, and I'm curious as to what will happen in the final book. 

Note: Image via BookLikes.

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