Monday, January 17, 2011

XVI by Julia Karr

  Summary (courtesy of 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.

And here's what I thought:  Good,  creepy, thought-provoking.  Julia Karr has created a world that's really bleak, and scary.   There's a lot of tension in this story, between Nina and Sandy, between Nina and Sal (a boy she meets), and between Nina and the fact that she's about to turn sixteen.  I know that sounds a bit odd, but the whole "turn sixteen, get tattooed, and be ready for sex" thing is scary, and the fact that Nina is completely dreading turning sixteen drives a lot of the story.  The mystery of who killed Nina's mother, and the additional mystery surrounding Nina's father is a big part of the story, but the whole "sex-teen" concept is always lurking in the background.

As far as characters go, Nina seems pretty believable.  She comes off as pretty mature for her age, but as we learn more about her parents, and her situation growing up, that makes sense.   Sandy's completely annoying, and for the most part, is really the complete opposite of Nina, so she's an interesting counterpoint to Nina.  Sandy can't wait to turn sixteen, and in anticipation, is already dressing provocatively, and acting out.   I couldn't stand Sandy, but she was realistic (which is probably why I couldn't stand her).   In the society that Karr has created, I believe there would be girls like Sandy, who can't wait to get older, and who can't wait to start having sex.  Heck, there are girls in our society now who are like that.  I found it disturbing that in this book, girls turn sixteen and then they are "ready for sex."  It's not clear why, and it's never questioned why boys aren't labeled as ready for sex at sixteen.  Maybe it's because of a population issue?  Maybe it's so that girls will focus more on sex, and less on being smart?  Maybe it's because in this society, things are run by men who want it to be completely okay and legal to assault girls?   No matter how I looked at it, it was disturbing.   And while I could say that Karr has taken things a little too far, and that this would be completely implausible in the future .....  well, when I look at ads in magazines and on tv, I have to say that I can see where she would get some of her ideas.  Advertisements that shout at you when you walk past?  Already happening!  Girls being over-sexualized at an early age?  Already happening!  Things are disturbing enough in the here and now.   And I'll stop with that.

I enjoyed this story because while it creeped me out, and it made me think.   Was it perfect?  No, I don't think so --- but it was fast-paced, and kept me guessing (and kept me tensely reading).   I thought the author did a nice job of making the world in this book bleak, and explaining why certain things existed.   Extra bonus points to Karr for setting this in a future version of Chicago (I live outside of Chicago now, but I had apartments in a few city neighborhoods).  

First sentences:  "Nina, look."  Sandy jabbed me in the ribs.
I glanced up at the AV screen expecting to see the latest vert of back-to-school fashion for sixteens.
 "No, there." Sandy jerked my arm, bring my attention to the doorway.

Thoughts on the cover:  Eye-catching, with the somewhat blurred image of a girl behind the strong cut-outs of the "XVI" - almost like looking at someone behind bars.  Fits the story perfectly.


Melissa (i swim for oceans) said...

This sounds so so so dark. And yet, I'm intrigued. Dystopian is so my thing right now haha Great review, Jo! :)

Amber said...

I'm even more excited to read this debut now! You made a good point about the Sandys and the Ninas of the world. Thanks for offering up such an amazing review.

Anonymous said...

My copy arrived today! Squeeee! I am more excited than ever to read it lol Great review!

Amelia said...

Wow, this book sounds intense. I'll have to keep it in mind for the future, because the premise sounds quite interesting. Awesome review!

Jess - A Book Hoarder said...

First of all...I just came across your blog and it is gorgeous.

Secondly, great review. I am so curious about this book, I am going to have to check it out.

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