"But it’s hard being the only person who thinks like me. Sometimes I wish I could just be like everyone else my age and not think at all."XVI is the dystopian young adult debut by Julia Karr, which takes place in the weeks leading up to the sixteenth birthday of Nina Oberson. In Nina's world, sixteen is something most girls look forward to because it means they get their Governing Council-ordered tattoo, a XVI inked onto their wrists indicating they are ready to have sex. The Media is constantly telling girls how to dress and act so they can become better "sex-teens" and Nina's best friend Sandy is the epitome of that. For Nina though, sixteen is an inescapable horror that she tries to keep out of her mind. However when her mother is killed Nina's world is shattered as she is drawn into a world of secrets where she may finally learn the truth about not only the Governing Council and her own past, but who in fact killed her mother.
The last year or so has involved the release of a great number of fantastic dystopian novels, including The Hunger Games Trilogy and Birthmarked, a trend I really enjoy and so I was excited when I had a chance to read XVI which I had been looking forward to for awhile. When I first picked up XVI, it took awhile for me to become involved in the story, likely due to the amount of unfamilar vocabulary used in the book, especially acronyms like FeLS and Non-Cons and PAVs which took me awhile to become comfortable with. Once I was able to spend less time focusing on what certain words meant and more time just appreciating the story, I really began to enjoy learning about Nina's journey. Like Katniss in The Hunger Games, Nina is a strong but at first skeptical heroine. However, once Nina becomes fully aware of the awful things going on around her she doesn't waste any time taking action, making her a strong female role model which is something I both admire and appreciate in young adult novels.
In addition to Nina, Karr does a great job crafting realistic secondary characters like her sister, friends and grandparents. Even Nina's mother, Ginnie, who hardly appears in the book at all feels real based on the memories Nina has of her. Nina's best friend Sandy can be slightly annoying and sometimes it was hard to remember why exactly Nina was friends with her, but it is clear why Karr included her in XVI as she provided a clear example of how the Governing Council and Media actually want the sixteens to act. Although I enjoyed Karr's writing there were a few elements of the story I felt were pretty weak, especially since they were played as plot twists despite the fact that they were obvious from the beginning, for example what exactly the FeLS was. In another case, I felt like she killed off a character almost because she didn't know what else to do with them.
XVI finishes with enough loose ends and potential that it is certainly possible there will be a sequel and if so, I'd probably pick it up as I think it would be even stronger since Karr would have to spend less time developing the world for the reader. Ultimately, XVI is a flawed but enjoyable read and a welcome addition to the canon of young adult dystopian literature available today.
Release Date: January 6, 2011
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