"XVI" by Julia Karr (Debut Author)

Dystopian lovers rejoice: Julia Karr's XVI marks the start of a wave of 2011 releases in the genre. Her debut novel is reminiscent of the classic novels 1984 by George Orwell and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. XVI features a strong feminist viewpoint and a look at where our society could be headed.

The novel takes place in Chicago during the year 2150. On their sixteenth birthday when they become "legal," (Get it? "XVI?"), the government requires girls to get a special tattoo on their wrists. Sadly, women's rights are no longer protected and once they have their tattoo, many fall victim to the whims of men. The media advocates sexuality and teaches young girls how to appeal to men, making them want to turn "sex-teen" as soon as possible.

Nina, the protagonist of the novel, was raised by her mother Ginnie, an outspoken woman who dislikes the rules enforced by government officials. After she's murdered, Nina and her younger sister, Dee, move in with their grandparents and begin attending a new school. Nina makes friends with Wei and Sal, who conveniently both have parents who were friends with her own mother and father before they passed away. Nina is dreading her sixteenth birthday: Unlike her childhood best friend Sandy, who wants nothing more than to be a sex-teen, she dreads the fact that a man may decide to take advantage of her once she's legal. She feels no need to have a guy in her life, especially after seeing the way her mother's boyfriend Ed abused her over the years. When she realizes she's attracted to Sal, she fights her feelings and becomes conflicted.

Upon Ginnie's deathbed, Nina discovers that her mother believes her father to be alive despite the fact that he died several years ago. Digging into her past, she discovers that he may be a leader for NonCon, a group of people against the government and media. As she learns more about the secrets the government is hiding from society, she finds herself in increasing danger and must learn all she can before it's too late.

At times, it's clear that this is Karr's first published novel. She falls into some writing traps such as "telling" over "showing." The first portion of the novel suffers from this. The characters talk to one another about all the "modern-day" jargon being thrown around that 2011 readers have no concept of. At times, it felt overwhelming. Sometimes, I wished I could just physically see what a trannie car looked like. There were also a couple of times when Karr didn't explain the lingo until further into the novel, so I was lost and had to infer what the characters might be talking about. I also wish Nina was a little more emotional after her mother's violent death, though I do realize she was trying to be strong for her little sister. I would have at least liked to see a bit more reflection internally. From time to time, situations felt a little too convenient, though such crutches are necessary in order for Nina to discover all that she does on her own.

That being said, the second half of the novel really picks up speed and I became invested in Nina's plight. I wanted her to figure things out and succeed. Characters that were previously one-dimensional were fleshed out more and I found myself caring about what happened to them. XVI has moments that are tragically sad, full of frantic adrenaline, and laced with mystery. Whenever Nina was with Sal, it felt very real: These were truly two teenagers exploring their first real relationship together, with all its ups and downs.

Despite the fact that there will be at least one sequel and a companion novel, XVI didn't end on a cliffhanger. It was such a relief after all the books I've been reading that make you need to know what happens next right now. There are a lot of loose strings and questions to be answered, though. Karr is currently working on the sequel, tentatively titled The Sisterhood. There will also be a companion novel entitled Cinderella Girl, a type of female mentioned in XVI. On her website, the author states, “No fairy tale ending here.” I think the companion novel will be quite sad, since it seems Cinderella Girls lead a miserable existence. They are usually born out of wedlock, and their fathers are often already married. Some men will take the girls into their households to work as maids, etc.

While XVI wasn't my all-time favorite Dystopian novel, I enjoyed reading it and had trouble putting the book down. I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel and feel that Karr will only grown as an author. I think the sequel will address all of the pitfalls the author experienced during the first novel and be all the better for it.

[This entry is part of The Story Siren's Debut Author Challenge of 2011. See how I've done so far here.]

[This entry is part of Bookish Ardour's Reading Challenges' Dystopian Challenge of 2011. See how I've done so far here.]


  1. I'm in the middle of reading this one right now. Its on my kindle I think it says about 25% read. I really am enjoying it. I agree with a lot of the points you've made, though, especially the new technology the reader may not understand. I'm also very relieved to hear this won't end with a cliffhanger. I've already read two books this year which ended in that fashion. I'm ready to have some closer.

  2. @ Gina:

    You're braver than me! If I see someone review a book I'm about to read, I usually put off seeing what they say because I don't want to know ANYTHING about it.

    Once, my mom and I read the same book and my mom said that the end was "chilling," so I was thinking about how it could end the entire time I read the book and looking for clues!

    Definitely not a cliffhanger, but it makes you want to know more. I've read so many cliffhangers lately in teens, too. In a way, it's getting annoying! >.<


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