XVI, by Julia Karr

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Author’s website
Publication date – January 6, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Nina Oberon’s life is pretty normal: she hangs out with her best friend, Sandy, and their crew, goes to school, plays with her little sister, Dee. But Nina is 15. And like all girls she’ll receive a Governing Council-ordered tattoo on her 16th birthday. XVI. Those three letters will be branded on her wrist, announcing to all the world-even the most predatory of men-that she is ready for sex. Considered easy prey by some, portrayed by the Media as sluts who ask for attacks, becoming a “sex-teen” is Nina’s worst fear. That is, until right before her birthday, when Nina’s mom is brutally attacked. With her dying breaths, she reveals to Nina a shocking truth about her past-one that destroys everything Nina thought she knew. Now, alone but for her sister, Nina must try to discover who she really is, all the while staying one step ahead of her mother’s killer.

Thoughts: I was really looking forward to getting the chance to read this books. From early descriptions that I read, it seemed like it would be a really interesting dystopian world with an interesting debate on sexual ethics.

And while this book wasn’t bad, I did close it wishing that I’d borrowed instead of bought. It didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had in mind. The negative side of hype, I suppose.

The story revolves around Nina, a girl terrified of turning 16 and receiving the government-mandated “XVI” tattoo on her wrist that identifies her as being legal to have sex. After her mother’s brutal murder, she and her sister go to live with their grandparents, transferring schools, and entering into a conspiracy that threatens not only Nina’s life but the life of all those around her. And for such an exciting-sounding premise, I can think of only one or two scenes that were actually as exciting as that description sounded.

Reading this book so soon after Bumped made it very hard not to compare the two. Both are futuristic settings where the plot has an emphasis on sexuality. However, where Bumped actually felt like a different time period due to differing slang and cultural thoughts and stereotypes, XVI felt like it was today, if today had hovercars and people flipped their calendars forward by about a century. The problem is that XVI took place much further down the road than Bumped did. But hovercars aside, you really wouldn’t know it. People talked the same, they thought the same, they acted the same way they do today, for the most part. While this may have been something done to increase the chances of readers relating to the characters, it had the negative effect of making the future, with all its bad changes, feel not so futuristic after all. Maybe this kind of story could have been better presented as an alternate earth, in which the Puritans and Big Brother gained a much greater hold in public mindset. 99% of the key plot elements would not suffer at all for this change.

Very little in this book came as a surprise. From finding out who Nina’s mother’s killer was to the true purposes behind the FeLS program (when the girls chosen for this are required to be virgins and pretty, it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on), I mostly wondered how it had taken people so long to figure this stuff out in the first place. The writing style itself was good, fluid and easy to read and constant, but that also proved to be a detriment when the the dull periods felt just the same as the exciting periods.

On a personal level, I dislike the way teenager sex was dealt with her. Now, I can rant for hours about how sexuality in the media bugs me because it assumes that everybody wants to do it (ignoring those of us who have better things to do with our time, thank you very much), but particularly what bothered me here was the subject of rape. As in, “it doesn’t exist.” The XVI tattoo was the proof that girls could legally have sex, but this was interpreted as an entire society thinking that all girls with that tattoo must want to have sex, a lot, to the point where there can’t possibly be any rape no matter what the girl says happened. That made me grind my teeth. But when you get to a news story about how a girl was raped and murdered and all that happens is that people pay lip service to how dangerous teenage hypersexuality can be, I want to beat people over the head for ignoring the murder! That part felt incredibly sloppy. Yes, it’s established that people don’t always care about low-tier people getting killed, but to turn the entire incident into an expression of sexuality is just painful. The society views in Nina’s world may be different than our own, but murder is still murder, and people are going to be angered over it.

Julia Karr definitely has promise as an author, I think, but if her other books continue to feel as this one did, I suspect I won’t be reading any of them. Too much left undone or unsaid or underdeveloped for me to want to read the sequel to this book, at least. I think, in a way, that’s the crux of why I didn’t like this as much as I thought. It was too full of promise, and too short on anything else.

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