XVI – Julia Karr

XVITitle: XVI
Author: Julia Karr

ISBN: 9780142417713
Publisher: Speak
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 325
Price: $8.99 (paperback)

Genre: Dystopian
Interest Age: 12 and up
Lexile Level: 600

Annotation: The brutal death of Nina’s mother just before her 16th birthday reveals secrets not just about her life, but society itself.

Plot Summary: Nina is on the cusp of her 16th birthday and about to receive her XVI tattoo signaling that she is ready for sex. In this world, the Governing Council believe that the creation of the “sex-teen” protects girls and most girls look forward to the day they turn 16. For lower tiered girls, turning 16 allows them to join the Female Liaison Speciailists (FeLS), a career to help lift them out of poverty. Unlike the other girls, Nina is content to remain young forever and dreading her 16th birthday. When her mother is murdered, Nina uncovers shocking family secrets including her father’s identity that lead her down the road to rebellion.

Critical Evaluation: The initial draw of this book is the world Julia Karr creates. XVI sets up a futuristic world consumed by constant advertising and marketing, and girls are branded with a XVI tattoo as soon as they turn 16. This tattoo advertises their sexual availability to every boy/man and essentially makes them fair game. A promising premise. However, I had some issues with the world-building. XVI sets itself up as a misogynistic society with no legal recourse for women who are harassed, assaulted, or raped. A world where women are not only preyed on by men, but by predatory marketing, the government and media. I had some trouble connecting how today’s world shifts into the one Karr creates. How did the justice system, however minuscule it still is for women today, disappear? And how did humanity let those values vanish? Despite some issues with the world building, I still enjoyed the world Karr shows. Nina is a well-developed character – her strength in protecting Dee, her fear of being sixteen, her drive to understand her mother’s death. I enjoy following Nina’s story. However, some of the secondary characters felt flat. Grounded Wei and Flighty Sandy felt like stock characters that help emphasize Nina as the balance between the two. These characters have potential and I hope that Karr develops them more in the next book.

While it is not the best book out there, Karr creates a story and world that provokes discussion. She shows us how far predatory marketing, sexualization of women and government control can go. It is a reflection of societal ills and the treatment of women today. The themes covered and the premise of the world makes this potentially amazing. However, XVI falls short of the mark. The themes were never fully explored and it is a predictable piece.

Author Bio: Julia Karr lives in Seymour, Indiana. (via Ingram).

Tie to Curriculum Units: Sex Education

Booktalking Ideas: Dystopia, gender politics, murder, mystery

Challenge Issues: In response to a challenge, I would use Booklists’ review that states “In her unsettling debut, Karr depicts a sex-obsessed future where women are the perpetual victims of predatory marketing, and other societal ills seen in our presentfamilies trapped in the welfare system, pharmaceutical companies in bed with health-care providers and the mediahave been taken to terrifying ends. At times the message goes overboard, but theres no doubt this well-written, accessible sci-fi thriller will provoke discussion.” While the book might not be the best work out there, the topics discussed by Karr is important in today’s technology driven world as indicate in other various review sources. I would also ask for teens’ opinion.

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