Nina isn’t like other teen girls, excited for their sixteenth birthdays and the mandatory tattoos they must receive, marking them as sexually mature to all the men of their dystopian world. Nina’s mother, Ginnie, has always taught her daughters to be strong and to think for themselves, but that proves dangerous in their world, where the corrupt government controls the media and someone is always watching. When Ginnie is killed shortly before Nina’s birthday, Nina discovers that there is more to her past than she initially thought, and that her mother was directly linked to the heart of the underground rebellion. Now, with danger on every side, Nina has to make new friends, figure out who to trust, and try to carry out her mother’s dying wish, which will lead her toward the father she thought was long-dead.
Julia Karr transports readers into an action-packed and dangerous world with XVI, similar to modern United States, but also very different. Set 140 years in the future, Karr’s Chicago is bustling with activity and noise; a place where the government watches everything and everyone, but rebellion simmers in random dead zones all over the city. This portrayal of the future is packed with details, from its own set of slang to descriptions of new technologies on both small and large scales. What is also fascinating is the way that sexuality is portrayed, with the act of sex and gratification not only at the top of everyone’s mind, but also the existence of acceptance for promiscuity, with federally funded pamphlets on how to flirt and date. It is believable that this is the direction in which we are heading as a society, but to read about it in full force is frightening. It is the source of much worry and consternation for Nina as she is determined not to become a “sex-teen,” but yet can’t deny her growing attraction for rebel Sal. Karr imparts a strong, positive message concerning peer pressure as Nina sticks to her values and decides that she can have a meaningful relationship with him without resorting to sex the minute she turns sixteen.
The pace of the book is a tad slow to begin with, as Karr is definitely an author who shows rather than tells her readers about the world and characters rather she has created. However, but it’s not long before Ginnie is attacked, thus prompting Nina to look into the mystery of her father’s death and her mother’s sudden decision to move the family and take a lower-level job, Nina must also keep her guard up as she tries to evade Ed, her mother’s abusive and powerful boyfriend, and the threat of the government. Luckily, Nina is able to make some very good friends and allies, who provide an excellent support system for her and some comedic relief at times. The ending is full of very real danger for Nina, and some fatal consequences, giving XVI its edge and tension. Karr leaves the book wide open for a sequel that will be eagerly welcomed.
Tirzah Price is a sophomore at Ferris State University and blogs regularly at thecompulsivereader.com. If not reading or writing, she is most likely lurking around Twitter @compelledtoread.