review: XVI by Julia Karr

January 9, 2011

Well here we are again. . . i’d like to welcome you to my first review of the year and my first review for the Debut Author Challenge

hosted by the lovely Kristi over at The Story Siren.


First up we have XVI by Julia Karr (in case you didn’t read the title of the post)



A brief summary:  It’s the future (2150) and Nina Oberon is a 15 year old girl living in Chicago under the Governing Council.  She is fast approaching her 16th birthday which means an XVI tattoo on her wrist proving her legality- and by legality i mean her readiness for sex.  It also means that men can take advantage of girls with no punishment. . . the Governing Council blames it on the girl for being an “oversexed sixteen.” Turning “sex-teen” is a highlight for many girls in the culture but Nina desperately wants to stay 15 and far away from everything “sex-teen.” Then her mother is brutally murdered and gives Nina instructions to find out about a past Nina thought was non-existent.  Nina meets a boy who may be able to help her on her journey to figure out the mystery of the past and keep her family safe.



Thoughts:  i liked it.  It isn’t a book i think you need to run out this very moment and buy but if you come across it, it’s worth reading.  There is a strong feminist voice and message in the book from Nina’s disgust at the whole “sex-teen” idea to her friend Wei’s attitude about sex, life, self-defense and more.  Anything that has a strong girl-power message is a win for me.  We need every strong female character we can get.


The whole XVI/sex legalized by the Governing council was a little reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  My love for that book is one of the reasons this book appealed so strongly to me.  However, the society Karr creates is much less stringent than the ones we’ve seen in The Hunger Games, the Uglies Series or The Handmaid’s Tale.  It’s true that when girls become 16 they get a government issued tattoo and the media is entirely government controlled and filled with what thoughts to think, things to buy, people to admire, ways to act, etc.  (If you’ve seen the live action Josie and the Pussycats you’ll get the picture)

BUT in Nina’s world she can travel to her grandparent’s apartment alone with a friend, there are zoos and parks to play in, people are able to “major” in things like art or music.  There is no killing arena or major surgery involved whatsoever.  There’s obviously more to it that that but hopefully you’ll get enough of a picture before you read it yourself.


For me it was pretty clear that this was Julia Karr’s first novel. . . i hope she keeps writing because i can only imagine how enjoyable her future books will be.  i felt like there were little things about the society that she created that she assumed her reader would know exactly what she was talking about and either never explained or waited a bit too long (in my opinion) to cover.  For example Nina and her best friend Sandy begin talking on their PAV’s but we never find out (unless i really skipped a part) what exactly a PAV is.  There is also mention early on of a trannie accident but we don’t find out until later that a trannie is any form of transport public or private.  Granted, these aren’t major plot points just little things that irked me- though not enough to not enjoy the book.  i felt like the ending was rushed- i definitely wanted something else- i would have been fine with her tacking another hundred or so pages onto the book to really get into the excitement.  i was also a little disappointed because i thought the book was going to focus on one thing – the idea of the XVI tattoos and the meaning behind them but instead that seemed to play second fiddle to the story of Nina solving the mystery her mother lays out for her.  It was still a good read but it wasn’t at all what i expected.


As far as the romance aspect goes i was pleasantly surprised.  i would have been fine without a romance aspect at all but i was okay with it.  i think these were some of the moments i liked Nina the most because i thought Karr had a nice grasp of reality when it came to a 15 year old girl discovering boys for the first time.  From her confusion over what to do when a friend likes her as more than a friend and she doesn’t have the same feelings to when she finds someone she does like but isn’t sure if he feels the same way or even if she wants to like him Nina is relatable.  And refreshing.


The other thing i really enjoyed was the fact that even though Nina was the main character, i didn’t feel like Julia Karr skimped on letting us get to know anyone else or letting them be strong characters.  It is easy to get an idea of who Nina’s friends and family are even if they only appear for short periods of time.


All in all i recommend it if you see it and need something to read.  It is a great first novel by Julia Karr and i can’t wait to see what else she comes up with.


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