Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Review: XVI by Julia Karr

First published in: 2011
By: Speak

Every girl gets one. An XVI tattoo on the wrist - sixteen. They say they're there for protection. Some girls can't wait to be sixteen, to be legal. Nina is not one of them. Even though she has no choice in the matter, she knows that so long as her life continues as normal, everything will be OK. 

Then, with one brutal strike, Nina's normal is shattered; and she discovers that nothing that she believed about her life is true. But there's one boy who can help - and he just may hold the key to her past. But with the line between attraction and danger as thin as a whisper, one thing is for sure...for Nina, turning sixteen promises to be anything but sweet. 

My review:

A big problem I have with discussing the premise of XVI is that, even after finishing the book, I'm still not exactly sure what it was. I understand why an author would want to avoid too much exposition/info-dumps, but XVI really doesn't explain anything very much. From what the futuristic gadgets looked like to the motives of the villainous government, mostly, I didn't get it.

Here's what I was able to gather: it's set about 150 years in the future and the US is completely controlled by the government and media, who blare out 'verts' constantly to keep the people distracted. Despite being the title and the focus of the synopsis, the XVI tattoo isn't really an integral part of the plotline. The plot is about Nina dealing with the death of her mother, who was a resistance fighter (called a NonCon), protecting her little sister from her evil step-father, Ed and trying to find her real father to pass on secret information to him.

I found it difficult to get caught up in the story because I couldn't get a feel for what the stakes were. I don't know how this government came to be or why they do most of the things they do. OK, so girls are considered fair game for sex once they turn sixteen, leaving them open to rape and other kinds of assault. And it's clear there's a parallel with today's media putting pressure on young girls to be as sexy as possible. But in XVI all the men that Nina encounters that aren't friends or blood relatives are willing rapists, only put off when they learn she's not yet sixteen. So, what's made the men that way? Has the government deliberately made the men more sexually aggressive and if so, to what purpose? Also, Nina's best friend, Sandy, is desperate to be chosen for something called FeLS training and Nina's worried it's not what it seems. But I swear, it's not even fully explained how it's supposed to seem. Sandy gabbles about the training program but never says what it involves, so it was pretty hard to try and guess what it might be a front for. The whole book left me feeling like I'd skimmed it, when I'd actually read every word.

I thought the book missed what could have been key emotional moments. Nina's mother, Ginnie, dies after we see her in one scene, in which she has about two lines of dialogue - it was impossible for me to feel anything, because I hadn't had a chance to connect with her. Then, Nina finally meeting her father was incredibly anti-climatic.

I did come to like Nina as a character and I really liked her group of friends and the way they teamed up and supported each other. The one time the book truly moved me involved two of Nina's friends and a plasticene cow and it may not sound it, but it's really sad and sweet. As a contemporary YA novel of friendship and family, it had good characters and believable relationships so I probably would have liked it - it's as a dystopian or a thriller where I felt let down.

Rating: 2.5 stars


  1. What a pity - the idea in the summary sounded pretty interesting, but from what you say the book just doesn't quite make it. I agree with you that there are ways to get info out to the reader without an info-dump and that without that info the plot doesn't have a foundation or base to stand on.

    Good review.

    The Word Fiend

  2. Thanks, Shelagh. Apparently this book is the first in a series so the author might expand the world-building in further books, but they won't be top of my must-read this.


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