Anya Balanchine is a girl living in uncertain times. She’s also the daughter of a slain mafiya boss. These factors play large parts in what formulates her nature and that character is one that proves increasingly absorbing as you read her tale.

As in most stories about mob gangs, what is important is family and Anya’s devotion to her immediate relations is deep and unswerving. She’s truly a girl of complex parts. Unusually mature for her age, yet she’s capable of being swept up in a Romeo-and-Juliet type of affair. But she machinates and connives for her family with the cool-headedness of a Machiavelli.

Tragedy inevitably strikes—just not necessarily where you think it will. The author pulls off surprises but nothing gratuitous or needlessly bloody (those expecting Sam-Peckinpah levels of violence will be disappointed). All the action of the novel arises out of the characters as laid out by Ms. Zevin; there isn’t a false moment anywhere. Ms. Zevin understands that people are multifaceted beings, with notions like “good” or “evil” being entirely irrelevant. She also builds her world—one set in an undefined future—with careful and neatly drawn outlines. Prohibitions, restrictions, scarcity, rationing and crime are part of the blocks that make up this sad picture and these aspects of society drive the many people living in it.

This is a telling read about a fictional world that seems disturbingly real. With Anyaschka Balanchine at its center, this book is one that you could read repeatedly—if only as a cautionary tale of living in difficult times.

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