I like conspiracy theories, I like dystopian settings, I like books about surviving complicated relationships. I think XVI by Julia Karr tries to push too many of each of these things into one novel.
“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.”
The media only tells lies and brainwashes you, there’s human trafficking, objectification of women, a caste system, vaccination scams, corrupt officials….. the world of XVI is a really really really crappy one to live in. I think this is taken a bit too far. There’s dystopian, and then there’s every possible thing gone wrong. There’s a point where it just isn’t a believable world. Especially because it seems that every teen Nina meets is anti-government. If it was so simple to fall in with the rebel crowd there would be a revolution already under way.
Another major issue I have with the book is that I don’t understand how Dee can be ignorant of Ed beating Ginnie. Ginnie was in very rough shape pretty often from the sounds of it, and Dee is old enough that she would have noticed, even if she never witnessed the violence herself.
Nina seems to feel she is protecting Dee by not telling her about Ed’s abusive relationship with her mother, the time he kidnapped her, or how he hurt her. This is ludicrous! If you want to protect your sister from her father, don’t tell her sweetly not to go anywhere alone with him. If she doesn’t know how evil he is, she will go with him, it’s her dad. Nina fails miserably as a guardian in this respect. Sheltering kids from what’s going on in the world, and especially their homes is no way to protect them. Kids who know about the dangers are the ones who are capable of avoiding them or dealing with them. If you shelter someone completely until they’re an adult, they aren’t prepared to be an adult and experience culture shock. If you tell your kids everyone is good and friendly they may make the mistake of getting in that strange van. Come on, Nina!
I thought that Nina had a lot more reason to like Derek then Sal. He was sweet and generous, and a good friend. She falls for Sal like the sex-teens she hates, almost entirely based on appearances. I didn’t feel the chemistry between them, and he gives her a gift that I can’t imagine a guy picking out (maybe a 10-year-old girl?).
What I did like:
- The contrasting messages teens get from the society about sex is a subject that is worth writing about. Being pushed by advertising and peer pressure to be sexy, but pressured by parents, school and religion to be chaste.
- Wei’s tattoo
- it makes readers think about how the media influences them
- it makes readers question the peer pressure race to have sex
- it paid homage to classic books, although I think Brave New World should have been mentioned and I didn’t notice that.
Overall I’m afraid I was disappointed. It felt a bit clunky and forced.