Monday, January 24, 2011

Book Review: XVI by Julia Karr


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 Short Version:
Playing on bits of the present and past, and blending it with a futuristic but well built world, XVI gracefully hits on some rough issues. There are some striking truths and revealed secrets throughout this book, all of which are easy to understand for readers while still being powerful. With a strong protagonist, a well developed supporting cast, and bold writing, Karr has created a great sci-fi dystopian that is both engaging and thought provoking.

The Extended Version:
Nina has a stunning inner strength that comes out in unexpected ways, making her both likable, respectable, and relatable. She challenges the ways of her world, disapproves of the sex-teen mindset, and is determined to make her own way as best she can while not raising too much suspicion. Faced with the death of her mother, Nina finds herself under a whole new set of problems, but handles it, overall, very well. She protects her sister, tries to keep up with her friends, and overall does what she can to blend both being a teen, about to be sex-teen (16), and trying to find her mother’s killer.

Sal is most certainly a very interesting character. His motives are questioned and challenged, and his mannerisms are sometimes suspicious, but he does a large part to drive not only the plot but Nina’s overall solid character development. Sal hits on the seemingly stereotypical mysterious love interest, attractive and intriguing while holding hints of danger, but Karr also manages to spin him in a way that keeps him separate from that.

Despite the dystopian world, this is a very character driven book which makes it shine for me. Karr’s development is fantastic, even for the minor characters, right down to little quirks and details. There is a strong sense of all the characters, and Karr holds nothing back with them.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the sex-teen angle. It holds grotesque truths to societies that exist today, and even, in some ways, mirrors our current culture in the US. Karr holds nothing back when it comes to her sex focused world, from leering boys to the constant reminder that once a girl turns sixteen, she is essentially fair game to any boy interested. Making this stronger and more memorable is setting it against the government control situation, where everything is seemingly in the best interest of the people yet this is such a striking opposition to that. Karr easily builds this world and gives the reader constant reminders without it being confusing or overly detailed.

The constant advertisements that exist in Nina’s world are mentioned often, and though this can seem redundant, I really enjoyed Karr’s use of it to drive home the point that it really is constant and unavoidable. But it isn’t just to promote and advertise products, and this is what made this element striking. With the constant noise and stimulation, it’s hard for any one person to think on their own. It adds, in a seemingly innocent way, to the controlling aspect. This is just one of the many ways Karr has built on everything and blended the two sides, all of which culminate into a great world.

Fleshing things out is the intricacies of this plot, revealing new clues at the perfect moment. There are some slower times and lulls, but Nina’s thoughts never slow and there is always something happening, even in the smallest of ways, to build towards the overall plot and story arc. A few subplots keep things interesting without bogging the main portion down, and Karr’s writing holds strong descriptions, easy use of her new technology, and an easy readability. With the great cast, an incredibly likable and strong protagonist who still has her moments of weakness and hints of fear, and some great concepts in content and playout, XVI is a stellar debut with plenty of promise for the author.

Source: Purchased

Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Speak
Publication Date: January 6, 2011


  1. whoa! sounds amazingly wonderful - I adore the cover! Although the constant advertisements might drive me a bit crazy, I think it's probably a good stylistic technique. awesome!

  2. Great in-depth review Kari. You really hit on all the best parts of the book. I enjoyed it just as much and thought the world was well fleshed out.

  3. this sounds great.

    i am a bit reluctant because of the dystopian factor...havent had many good experiences with it so far...

    but i definitely might give this one a try

    great review!

  4. This book sounds soooo good! I can't wait to read it. Thanks for sharing a great review.