by Gabrielle Zevin
To be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
On October 29, 2013
Source: e-ARC from the publisher. Please see my full FTC disclosure on right sidebar.
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Summary -- adapted from Goodreads: Now eighteen, Anya Balanchine has found life more bitter than sweet. She has lost her parents and her grandmother, and has spent the better part of her high school years in trouble with the law. Perhaps hardest of all, her decision to open a nightclub with her old nemesis Charles Delacroix has cost Anya her relationship with Win. Still, it is Anya’s nature to soldier on. She puts the loss of Win behind her and focuses on her work. Against the odds, the nightclub becomes an enormous success, and Anya feels like she is on her way and that nothing will ever go wrong for her again. But after a terrible misjudgment leaves Anya fighting for her life, she is forced to reckon with her choices and to let people help her for the first time in her life.In short: I'm a huge fan of this series, and I thought In the Age of Love and Chocolate was the perfect ending to Anya's story. The word "epic" is pretty overused these days, but there is something epic -- in the classic dictionary definition, as in "heroic or grand in scale or character" -- about the last installment of this story.
It's always challenging to write reviews of books I love. It's also challenging to write reviews of last books in trilogies, because I want to give people who have read prior books enough information without spoiling the series for those who haven't read it. So here goes with my spoiler-free, trilogy spanning thoughts:
1. This is not the typical YA trilogy
In The Age of Love and Chocolate spans several years of Anya's life, beginning as she turns 18 and ending with Anya in her early twenties. This isn't a typical choice for a YA novel, but I really liked it as a choice for this series. It added to the epic quality mentioned above, and gave the story plenty of breathing room -- time for people to grow and change and for Anya to gain more perspective on her life. I also love the narrative devices used by this book -- the ones that bring to mind nineteenth-century fiction. There are Anya's asides to the reader and the crazy-long, descriptive chapter titles, like "I Return to Chiapas; Christmas at Granja Mañana, A Proposal a.k.a. the Second-Worst Thing Ever to Happen to Me in a Cacao Field."
2. Anya is not the typical YA heroine.
In my review of Because It Is My Blood, I called Anya "tough and wry and world-weary." As a member of a notorious crime family, she has had to grow up fast and take on responsibilities that no teenager should have. She's made tremendous sacrifices for her family at great cost to her own happiness. After the events of Because It Is My Blood, Anya carries around a machete. She doesn't trust anyone. Her brainy little sister Natty compares Anya to the element Argon:
Argon is totally intert. Nothing affects it, and it has a hard time forming chemical compound, i.e. having relationships. It's a longer. It doesn't ask for anything from anybody. It reminds me of you.But Anya isn't just a loner, she's a smart businesswoman and a fierce protector of those she loves.
3. Anya has become quite the cynic about love…
Poor Anya. Sacrifices she made for her family in the end of the first book and the beginning of the second resulted in her break-up from her high school boyfriend, Win. Yeah, by book three, she's become a little bit cynical:
Romance was a lie. It was so much of a lie that it made me angry. Romance was hormones and fiction.After reading dozens of YA books featuring swoony guys and swooning girls, it was kind of refreshing to read about a character who saw love from a different perspective.
4. …but never about friendship.
Anya was raised in a mafia family, in which loyalty was constantly proven and questioned. In The Age of Love and Chocolate, Anya's loyalties shift a bit, and include the development of some very unlikely friendships, which I absolutely loved. It's always fascinating to me when enemies become allies, or people who thought they had nothing in common slowly discover that they actually do. (NB: One -- no, two -- of these friendships began to make me very nervous, though!)
5. These are books that bear re-reading.
Some books are light and fun and you just breeze through them. This trilogy is filled with smart literary references -- many of which I'm sure I missed the first time around. In the Age of Love and Chocolate includes an oblique reference to the play Prelude to a Kiss -- which didn't have much significance to me until I reached the last third of the book. Then Anya is reading both Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility, and I'll be darned if Anya isn't kind of a combo of Elinor Dashwood and Anne Elliot.
6. I never thought that reading about one person handing a strawberry to another could make me tear up.
Ah….. I'll leave that one for you to discover -- and enjoy -- for yourselves. If you have been waiting for this book, I think you'll love it. If you haven't yet tried this series, definitely keep it in mind. And if you missed my interview with Gabrielle, be sure to check that out. She tells this hilarious story about how Anya came to her in a dream and made her rewrite this book.
As my Freebie Friday giveaway, I have a copy of the book to give away to a US resident. If you're international, you can enter Hot Off the Presses OR my stop on the Something Wicked Blog Hop and pick this book is you're a winner!
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