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The year I was fourteen, my English class read Romeo and Juliet, and I decided then and there that Romeo and Juliet might very well be the least romantic story ever written. Consider the evidence. In the first act of the play, Romeo is completely in love with someone, not Juliet. By the end of the play, our two young lovers are tossing back poison shots. This, to my fourteen year-old self, was most definitely not romance. As a grown up, I am still intrigued by Romeo and Juliet – not because I find it any more romantic, but because I think that it captures several deep truths about young people and love:
1) The extent to which young people crave connection at any cost
2) The way love can feel like love when it is really lust
3) The youthful difficulty of judging what is forever and what is temporary
4) The very real importance of choosing a partner whose parents aren’t your parents’ mortal enemies; etc.
With this in mind, I’d like to introduce you to Anya Balanchine, the heroine of my novel, All These Things I’ve Done. Anya is the daughter of a slain mob boss and she is the primary caregiver for her ailing grandmother, her learning disabled older brother, and her genius kid sister. Like me, Anya is the kind of girl who is skeptical about Romeo and Juliet, and thus, it’s terribly inconvenient for her when she finds herself falling for a boy whose father’s interests are in direct opposition to her own. Anya knows better, and that’s why she was such a fun character for me to write. The death of her parents has made her wise beyond her years, but her heart is still a teenage one. She is the kind of girl who knows that romance is likely to be temporary, who knows that it’s better to choose a boyfriend who doesn’t have a father who can put her in prison, who knows that her family can’t afford for her to have a fling if that means dropping the ball on her many responsibilities. She’s a conflicted girl: a girl with a strong sense of irony who is also a romantic at heart. However, I can tell you with absolute certainty that Anya Balanchine would never drink poison for someone, no matter how in love she was. She may be relatively young and inexperienced, but she is no man’s Juliet.
Romeo and Juliet was written c. 1580, around five hundred years before the start of All These Things I’ve Done. New York City in 2082 has become as dirty and crime-filled as New York City in the 1970s. The change is not a result of a cataclysmic environmental event or a nuclear apocalypse or a dystopian-style government. It’s a future that really does have more in common with the past, a future predicated on warped societal priorities and an increasingly dismal economy. I imagined what would happen if we stopped funding museums and parks, if we stopped developing new technologies, if we allowed powerful lobbies and special interest groups to determine the products we eat and can buy, if we kept building banks and bars instead of bookstores. To some readers, this future might seem uncomfortably familiar; to others, it might seem horribly grim. But one of the things I believe about the future is that, no matter how bad things get, there will always be romance.
- Gabrielle Zevin
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