A book about a dystopian society that controls people through sex was a first for me. In the world created by author Julia Karr in XVI, the government has created a number of ways of controlling its citizens. Citizens are divided into different class tiers that control the kind of jobs and housing they have. All conversations can be listened in on unless they take place in a dead zone where there isn’t any surveillance. At sixteen girls are tattooed with XVI to indicate they can legally have sex and verts, an even more intrusive form of advertising are all geared toward encouraging female teens to want and have sex, that tattoo is insidious as it marks girls as bait.
Nina is one of the few girls who doesn’t seem to be looking forward to her sixteenth birthday, unlike her best friend Sandy who is counting down the days. Nina has more on her mind, like her mom’s abusive married boyfriend and looking out for her little sister Dee. She has never understood how her Mom, who was madly in love with her first husband who died when Nina was born, hooked up with a loser like Ed. Then again, there’s a lot about her mom’s life that doesn’t make sense to Nina, such as her giving up her good job and status as a Level 5, to take a cafeteria job and move to the countryside living as a Level One. Also, her mom’s insistence that FeLS, the organization that her friend Sandy is hoping desperately to be picked to join, where teen girls can move up tier status and trained as Female Liaison Specialists, a glamorous government program.
After Nina’s mom is killed, she and Dee move back to the city to live with her loving Gran and Pops, her father’s parents. Before she passed away Nina’s mom told her not to let her quasi stepdad Ed near Dee and most shocking of all told her that he father is still alive and that she has left answer’s in her little sister’s baby book. As she tries to figure out what’s real, she has to contend with government agents and burglaries, Ed, and her growing feelings for Sal, the latter just the type of thing she has wanted to avoid all her life.
While I enjoy the way dystopian books extrapolate from our current issues and concerns into how these can worsen in the future, I felt that this book was trying too hard to deliver a ‘message’ about our potential or current ills regarding freedom of speech, inequality, reproductive rights, spying on private conversations, etc. The book came across as unsophisticated and ‘preachy’ but maybe that’s because I am not a teen. This book was one of the shrinking pool of YA dystopian fiction actually written specifically for the YA market. Even the male/female relationships were immature and predictable. Perhaps the same idea, written by a stronger author such as Ilsa J. Blick, Mindy McGinnis, or Joelle Charbonneau may have become something entirely more intense and powerful as it did contain a novel approach to the idea of exactly how personal government control can become. It could have been a YA version of The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, now that would have been something indeed…