Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: XVI

XVI (XVI #1)
Julia Karr
Speculative Young Adult
325 pages
Available January 6th
Received from publisher for review

This review contains NO spoilers.

There's not much time left before Nina's sixteenth birthday. The day she'll get her tattoo on her wrist. The day her innocence is up for grabs and any man who wants to sleep with her has every right to do so under the rules and regulations of the Governing Council.

Most girls look forward to their birthdays, primping and preening in anticipation of attracting the attention of men, but Nina is terrified. Quicker than she can blink though, her life is filled with much more to worry about than turning sex-teen as her family is torn apart and secrets that change everything are revealed.

Nina's always been told the same story about her father's death years before, but in the wake of this new tragedy and a chance meeting with Sal, a young boy her age, she is forced her to question everything she's been told. With the help of her friends, Nina searches for answers and struggles with feelings for Sal that petrify her. She doesn't want to be a sex-teen, but her birthday is inching ever closer, as are all the ramifications it brings.

XVI allows us a fleeting glimpse of an extremely bleak and utterly disturbing future where the innocence of young women is a commodity, and the age at which they are deemed fair sexual game is regulated by the government itself. This world is one that has experienced extraordinary achievements in science and technology, but for every step forward and every advancement their humanity seems to have retreated, leaving behind a moral and ethical degradation so appalling there don't seem to be enough words to adequately describe it. In this world, rape isn't a crime as long as the XVI brand exists on young girls' wrists, a glaring symbol that advertises them as objects, bypasses the word "no" as a valid objection, and strips them of any rights over the use of their bodies. This world is intense, unfathomable, and repulsive, eliciting an acute reaction from us as we read on in horror and have to periodically retreat to the comfort of a reality where such depravity, though it surely exists, is at least punishable by law.

Nina is not your typical sex-teen, and unlike her best friend Sandy who blithely courts disaster with every bat of her eyelashes and flick of her hair, she is understandably fearful of her sixteenth birthday and the loss of sexual safety it represents. Like her mother and grandparents, she refuses to blindly capitulate to the media frenzy professing the merits of the XVI requirement, and instead thinks, questions, and effectively mutes the sensory barrage telling her to relinquish control over the most personal of acts with little more than a blush in her cheeks and a smile on her face. She is a character who has our full support – her loyalty to friends and family is admirable, her desire for change is infectious, and her strength of will is exceptional.

Though the world is gripping in it's darkness and Nina has the makings of a strong protagonist, the romantic aspect between her and Sal is not quite as compelling as the elements surrounding it. For all the intensity of her reality and the monstrous implications of her birthday, their interactions are rather bland and simple, seeming to pale in comparison against such a powerfully atrocious backdrop. Despite her overwhelming fear of being a sex-teen, Nina is hardly reticent when confronted with brief kisses and caresses from Sal, a surprising reaction considering the context of her world. There is nothing overly distinctive about Sal aside from his knowledge of her father, and their connection is one that could exist in any young adult novel, their sweetness and innocence, while enjoyable, not quite matching the complexity and seriousness of being sixteen in this reality. Though it's a secondary element to the mystery of the main storyline and therefore perhaps not meant to be as profound, their relationship just doesn't pulse with life and exhilaration, and where it could have been a guiding beacon to help Nina navigate the claustrophobic darkness of her fear, it remains simply average – a cute teenage love scenario instead of a memorably epic romance.

Overall, this is a disturbingly fascinating first installment with a well-developed world and intriguing characters, the most noteworthy of all being our villain. He is one so vile and disgusting we find our lips curling involuntarily at the mere visual of two little letters that comprise his name: Ed. The embodiment and physical manifestation of all the cruelties and injustices of this world, he inspires a hatred to burn in us that simmers long after we've finished this story, just as our recollection of this future reality is branded in our minds as real and lasting as Nina's own XVI marker.

Rating: 3.5/5


  1. Well, I like Nina already from your description but it's too bad to read about the disappointing romantic aspect of the story. Still, I look forward to reading this one myself as it does seem to be a very interesting, if disturbing, read.

  2. This book seems very interesting but I've had two questions about it - do they explain why they have the 16th birthday rule (at least satisfactorily for the world of the book) and is this forever? I mean, does any woman have to worry about these rules, or does it mostly affect the teens?

  3. This book sounds really disturbing. I can't even imagine a world so horrid like that. It's too bad about the cutesy relationship that went on in the story, those tend to annoy me. I do really like the sound of Nina though. Ed also sounds like such a horrible villain. I'll be looking forward to reading this one.

  4. This book sounds amazing. In the weird "I'm so intrigued and disturbed by the idea their world" kind of way. I was truly appalled when I had read the synopsis of this for the first time. It's hard to imagine our world getting so bad that our morals would be degraded so intensely.

    It's a shame that the romance is bland and more cutesy in respect to all of the intense things going on around them. Based on the synopsis and your review alone, I'd have thought it would be more than... cutesy or bland.

    Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading this. I'll probably be horrified, but I still want to read it. Thank you for the review!

  5. Another brilliant review. This books sounds intense and intruiging despite its creepy world. The romance sounds like it doesn't match the depth the rest of the book has.

    I will have to give this a read. You mentioned it is a series. Do we know how many books in the series?

  6. Great review. This is on book that I've had my eye on. I liked how strong she is, though the world sounds scary.

  7. Hmmm it sucks when some characters excel and then the romance falls flat. I almost wish that the romance was left out in such cases, you know? Great review, as always, Jenny! :)

  8. Aylee - It's definitely worth reading, I just wanted a little more from Nina and Sal or nothing at all.

    Jennifer - No, it's unclear as to how the XVI tattoo came to be a requirement and I think it mostly affects teens. Women still grow up and get married and then the tattoo doesn't matter.

    Adriana - Me either, that was part of what made it so fascinating.

    Kristina - It is appalling, but it's not thrown in your face every minute while reading, it's just alluded to and hangs there like a giant, disturbing elephant in the room.

    Nic - Thank you! I know there's a sequel, but I don't know if there are any after that.

    Savy - The world is scary, it was nice to come back to this reality:)

    Melissa - I was definitely a little disappointed in the relationship aspect since the world was set up so nicely. I could have done with just the possibility of a relationship between Nina and Sal and been fine with that:)

  9. Thanks a lot for the review! I had HUGE expectations for this book. Sorry to read that the romance isn't compelling. I will still give it a try since I like dark novels.

  10. That premise is so amazing - it's too bad every YA has to add some sort of love element tot heir stories these days. Not that it doesn't serve a purpose but it just seems this would be an impressive story even without it - or as you said if it was on a more "epic" scale.

  11. Your reviews are always so well written. I really get a sense of what you like and didn't all in a thoughtful, contemplative way.

    This book sounds like it is extremely dark and gritty. What a fascinating premise. However, I do wish, as you said, that the romance was a bit more epic. It sounds like it needed some added strength to live up to such bleak surroundings.

  12. Misha - Absolutely give it a try, maybe everyone else will find the romance between them more intense:)

    Karen - I think this story would have been amazing without the romantic aspect, or may if the attraction had just been hinted at instead of explored. I'll still be reading book 2 though:)

    Jen - Thank you! The romance I felt just needed a little something more to make it as fascinating and memorable as the world:)

  13. Wow. This is a beautifully written review--like, beyond words beautiful. I can't wait to read this book.

  14. Gah! You know I have seen the cover for this one everywhere (and I love it), but have never stopped to read what it is about.

    Based on the monstrosity of the world described and lackluster relationship between Nina and Sal, I'd say this is one where your review is a better read. LOL

    But I'm still curious so I do have it on my TBR. Didn't know it was going to be a series.

    Brilliant review, Jenny. Loved "the pulse with life and exhilaration" line. It made me feel wistful. :)

  15. Jenny, your reviews are always a pleasure to read. XVI sounds like a pretty complex read despite it's flaws. It will be interesting to see the direction in which Karr is going to take the series.

  16. This was such a thoughtful, insightful review (as always). So. The government has control over women's bodies. I won't go all political here, but hmm. Interesting. Too bad the romance didn't resonate for you, this sounds like it could have easily been an even more powerful book if it had.

  17. I can see how the romance in this book is distracting. I really want to read this now. It feels like it is pushing the envelope on the woman as object theme by going to extremes. Both in age of the child and law. Interesting.

  18. This books sounds really dark and disturbing. I'm not sure it's for me. Also, I'm a huge romantic, and I love epic romances in books (I can't help it!), so if that is a low point of this book, I think I might give it a miss.

    Great review, as always! :)

  19. Cari - Can't wait to see what you think!

    Stephany - Thank you so much, so glad you enjoyed it:)

    Missie - It's certainly a memorable read, I just wanted a little bit more intensity from Sal to match the dystopian world.

    Carissa - Thank you! I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the sequel:)

    Midnyte - Thank you! It's still a powerful story, the romance just fell a little flat for me in comparison.

    Melissa - Looking forward to your thoughts on this one, it's a great discussion book.

    Leanna - I'm a huge romantic too, that was probably part of the problem for me!

  20. I've got this one pre-ordered and I'm looking forward to getting introduced to the world of Nina although it's too bad that the romance wasn't as good.

  21. This book sounds so amazing, but i haven't seen anyone rate it a 4 or higher so i'm kinda tempting on reading it.
    Though... The cover is amazing.(:
    thanks for sharing your opinion =D

  22. I have to agree with Aylee, I do love me some romance, so if the romance is lacking...? Ugh. I think that the premise could maybe make up for it though (at least I hope so!).

  23. This book sounds fascinating. I definitely will have to pick it up. For me, I think the world building would trump the romance, but we'll see. Thanks for the in depth review, Jenny!

  24. I've been looking forward to reading this one for a while. From your description, it actually sounds more intense than I thought.

    For anyone else who is dying to read it, you can get a sample first chapter from the author's website:

  25. Zahida - It's a good read, I have high hopes for book 2:)

    Amber - It's worth a read, I was just a little disappointed by the lack of oomph in their relationship.

    Avery - As do I! It's always my favorite part, I'm such a girl:)

    Rummanah - The world and the writing were definitely strong enough to carry the lackluster relationship, otherwise I would have rated it much lower:)

    Madigan - The premise is really intense, definitely one that leaves you thinking!

  26. This book does sound disturbing, but intriguing. It might be too dark for me. Sad about the romantic aspect. Great honest review! It's on my list for the 2k11 DAC, but maybe when it comes out I'll get it at the library.

  27. A popular theme in dystopia now seems to be girls turning 16 or so and governments who place restrictions on who they can marry/date/romance etc - XVI, Delirium, Matched. I can't decide if that's a good thing or not. Do you think XVI holds it own?

  28. While I'm disappointed to hear that the romance is a little lackluster, I'm still adding this to my TBR after seeing your review. I'm a big fan of distopian YA and this sounds uniquely depressing. Something I'll have to be in the mood for probably.

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