Thursday, March 17, 2011


XVI by Julia Karr
Speak, 2011
325 pages
YA; Dystopian
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I was first attracted to this book because it started with the letter "X" and I had never reviewed a book starting with that letter.  It was icing on the cake that it counted toward the YA Debut Author Challenge.

Summary: Nina is 15 and very unhappy about her pending 16th birthday when she will be marked with a "XVI" tattoo indicating her availability for sex to all.  Shortly before her birthday her mother is killed, although not before revealing a shocking secret and entrusting Nina with a dangerous assignment.  Now Nina must protect her sister and grandparents, assimilate into a new school, deal with boys, and stay a step ahead of her mother's dangerous government boyfriend, Ed.

Thoughts:  I found this a pretty quick easy read. I mostly liked Nina as someone who resists societal pressures and who was fairly protective of her family and friends.  After her mother's death, she feels adrift and tries to follow through on her mother's dying words that radically shifted her knowledge of life.  She has a younger sister who she worries about (as an older sister, that also tugs at my heart) and she tries to be a good student.  She is mostly cautious and is well aware of the dangers out there, which pleased me although I would have wanted her to be even more cautious.

Her love interest (of course there's a love interest) is Sal and he is part of the resistance to the government.  He was a perfectly nice guy but not swoonworthy to me.  He doesn't pressure her in any way but he does help her connect to the people she needs to know to complete her mother's dying wish.

I also liked the fact that the book was mostly standalone.  There is room for a sequel and I think Karr is working on one but there was no cliff-hanger ending and I feel pretty satisfied with the conclusion. 

I did have a few issues with it.  First is an extremely personal one.  The villain (well besides the government as this is a dystopian) is named Ed, which just happens to be my dad's name.  To be brief, my dad is awesome so seeing that the bad guy's name was Ed was hard for me.  Obviously that would only affect the tiniest portion of readers but it was a difficulty for me.

Second I thought that Nina let down people in two crucial instances.  She moves away due to her mom's death and her friendship with Sandy suffers; I thought that Nina could have tried harder to maintain contact but she seemed more interested in her new friends.  I also felt like she let down her sister in order to be with her boyfriend; Dee would have been a pawn used by Ed in any way and I didn't like that Nina took that chance.  I know she's a fictional character but those occurrences lowered my opinion of her.

Third I'm not entirely sure about the "sex-teen" concept.  I understand the proliferation of ads and media to control our thought; that's nothing new although it feels more extreme than some other dystopians I've read.  But I didn't quite understand why 16 was the age girls were made available for sex and exactly how that contributed to control.  The rationale for the government's decision was not made clear enough for me.  Small parts of the puzzle emerge but an overarching reason eluded my understanding.  Also what about queerness?  The novel really only discusses heterosexual relations. I was also surprised at how much dissent the government allowed as seen by the fact that Nina's father was a big opponent of Media for years until his death.  I feel like other societies would have had him killed much earlier in his life; perhaps it wasn't as established?

And lastly there were a great deal of "'d" contractions such as "I'd" and "Ginnie'd" throughout the book.  This grew very annoying to me although I recognize it as another personal preference; in general I would prefer the contraction written out or a rewording of the sentence to avoid so many on a page.  As I think about it, I wonder if those contractions are meant to be part of the language structures of the future.

Overall: A must-read for dystopian fans but not necessarily recommended to anyone else.

Cover: It's very different but I'm not entirely sold on the "XVI" in big black letters as it's a bit confusing at first to see.

Read for YA Debut Challenge


  1. Interesting concept for a dystopian story, although kind of makes me think that in the future, prostitution will become legal. Still, interesting and scary. I really enjoyed your review!

  2. Good to hear that it was a good read, and thanks for pointing out issues.
    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog


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