Let’s be honest, XVI by Julia Karr is a futuristic novel about the exploitation of sex in the media and among teenagers. The story of Nina’s plight within the controlled society she lives in brings forth a lot of questions about sex in media today. Unfortunately, it read almost like a Public Service Announcement.
Nina is about to turn sixteen, and she is not looking forward to it. It’s Chicago in the future and all girls must be branded with a XVI tattoo on their wrist on their sixteenth birthday. Once she’s sixteen, she’s legal; and the tattoo is the universal signal to boys everywhere that she’s of age for sex, hence the term, sex-teens. Nina does not want to be one of them, and when her fairly normal life takes a devastating turn, there may not be anyone there to keep her safe. Enter Sal, the attractive and mysterious boy who has all the answers.
I thought this story had a really great message. Karr tried to include the underlying message that teens should wait for sex. She isn’t very clear about how long they should wait or why, but it isn’t exactly a subtle message either. Anyone can blatantly see this message throughout the text. I’m sure some teenagers would feel like the message was being shoved down their throats. Like I said, I like the message; execution? not so much. It was a little too straight forward and it was too easy to see through the plot and characters. It’s almost like the verts from the story (constant media messages transmitted on the streets), very obnoxious and it interrupted the story a little too much for my taste.
Karr did a good job developing her characters. I had very clear pictures of them and their personalities. I enjoyed reading about them. The relationship between Sal and Nina was sweet. Sal seemed the right amount of protective, however, he never really did anything to protect her. Nina always had to fend for herself. The characters were great; it was the plot that I had an issue with, more specifically, the plot had too many unanswered questions. For example, the plot is set up with Nina realizing her dad may still be alive and the story is driven on the notion that she MUST find her father to save her, her littler sister, etc. **Spoiler Alert** This never happens! I’m like, what?!? Another example, this book is about her turning sixteen. She doesn’t turn sixteen until the very last page. Again, What?!? I’m so confused!
Ultimately, there is a lot of build up but no climax. There are a lot of exciting things that happen, but none of it brings the story together. The actual story was very disjointed from the plot. Since it was so disjointed, the reading experience wasn’t entirely pleasurable. I wanted to see what happened in the end, but I wasn’t excited about it. This book was missing something; I can’t put my finger on it. The story needed to come together more and the questions needed to be answered. I think Karr meant to leave questions for the next installment but there were just too many and it leaves the reader frustrated, not intrigued. The sequel, Truth, came out January 19, 2012. I’m not sure if I care to read it, maybe just to find some answers.