XVI by Julia Karr
jacket flap blurb
Every girl gets one. An XVI tattoo on the wrist—sixteen.
They say they’re 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 okay.
Then, with one brutal strike, Nina’s normal life 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
There were so many problems with this book I’m not sure where to begin. Nina’s personality seemed to change randomly to fit a plot point. There were a thousand-and-one places where I didn’t find her reactions believable. I found her to act stupid whenever it suited the plot, and her views about her world seemed to change depending on the chapter. There wasn’t enough of Nina’s thoughts and feelings to explain her bizarre choices at, really, any point in the book.
Then there’s the love interest, Sal. Besides having a cool name, he’s pretty much pointless as anything but a way to move the story forward, as he knows more than Nina does. But not, really, all that much more. Besides his relationship with the NonCons (the rebellion against the “Media” and the controlling government), the only real reason he was in the story was to be a love interest. And even that kind of sucked, because the romance between Sal and Nina was crappy. It felt rushed at some points, jerky at others, and all together first-draft-y. I didn’t understand Sal’s attraction to Nina, or Nina’s attraction to him. It left me wondering why he even was a love interest.
Of course, there did seem to be some sort of subplot about love and sex. Sandy (Nina’s best friend) is sort of obsessed with sex and everything related to turning sixteen—the age when a girl is legal to have sex (and also the age where girls are often raped or otherwise attacked without anyone caring, because they’re sixteen-year-old girls, and thus all sex-obsessed). Sandy’s friendship was Nina worked; it was one of the few relationships that did. Where Sandy would love to have sex, Nina really, really does not want to. Ever. Why? Well, there’s a plot point for that. When she was little, she accidentally stumbled over her step-father’s (Ed) nasty porn videos. They basically scarred her, which is fine. It makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense is that this love’s-connection-with-sex-and-sex’s-connection-with-violence subplot never goes anywhere. It’s left unfinished. She discovers that maybe she kind of wants to have sex with Sal, but the idea of this horrifies her. And that’s it. Neither this subplot, nor her relationship with Sal is completed.
And frankly, I could see the author making Wei as Nina’s girlfriend and fixing up a whole lot. For one thing, it would take Sal out of the picture. Sal’s connection with the NonCons isn’t really central to the story. Yes, he’s friends with Nita, who was also friends with Nina’s mom, Ginnie, but at the end of the book I wasn’t sure why Nita was important.
There are, really, too many characters for the story being told. Nita is extraneous, which makes Sal extraneous, which isnt’ the end of the world. See, Sal doesn’t need to be there. He went from initial stalkerness (why? By the end of the story, we still don’t know) to protectiveness, but this protectiveness is almost laughable. For one thing, she has three other friends who are also never there when she needs them and also feel protective (though for the friendship reason, not the relationship one).
I mean, look at this friend-count: Mike, Derek, Wei, Sandy, Sal. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but if you read the story, then it’s clear that there’s way too many of them. The only ones really necessary are Sandy, Wei, and maybe Mike or Derek. Actually, Mike and Derek could be combined into a character I’ll call Merek.
Derek is, initially, the friend Nina knows has a crush on her that she doesn’t return. Eventually, his interest moves elsewhere, to Wei. And Wei returns it. Sort of. There isn’t much about the problems or lives of the non-Nina characters, so it’s hard to say for sure. Mike is just a friend at the beginning, but later develops a crush on Sandy, which she doesn’t return. Nina is troubled about how this could mess with their group’s dynamics when Mike realizes Sandy doesn’t love him, but nothing ever happens with that subplot. Or the Derek/Wei subplot, for that matter.
I feel like the only reason Derek and Wei got together was to end the Derek/Nina issue. Of course, Derek switched targets pretty fast, so it wasn’t all that believable. And I was never clear why they liked each other—possibly because there was never very much time spent interacting with the other characters about their lives. So I’m left wondering if Derek and Wei had a relationship going, or just had crushes on each other, or something else entirely. It’s also worth noting that Sandy was interested in Derek.
So if Mike and Derek became Merek, Merek could have the initial crush on Nina, and then eventually move onto Sandy, who either does or doesn’t return his feelings. And Nina’s love subplot, if Sal was cut, could happen with Wei and seem just as realistic, if not more. Wei is a much more fleshed out character and has a lot more to do with the plot than Sal does.
Now that I’m done talking about all the relationships I hated, let’s move on to the good ones. Nina and her mother, Ginnie, were done well. I liked it, I believed it, I could sympathize. Success. Nina and her little sister, Dee, was okay. I believed it. Nina and her grandparents was great. For me, the grandparents were the best part of the story. Gran and Pops are awesome and interesting. Nina and Ed is scary and enthralling. Her relationship with her step-father is the main reason I finished the book instead of ditching it.
I also loved the world-building. The dystopian background of XVI is terrifyingly plausible and provides an exciting, trouble-filled sandbox to play in. And the new terms for things and the new slang words were not explained, but their meaning was clear all the same, which I liked. The one part of the world-building I questioned was the NonCons. I spent the whole book wondering how the word “NonCon” was made and what it stood for, and an answer was never provided. Non-Conditioned, maybe? Non-Connected? I don’t know. I want to know.
In addition, there were a number of punctuation errors that were missed in editing. Heck, there’s even one on the back cover. It says, “Then, with one brutal strike, Nina’s normal life is shattered; and she discovers that nothing that she believed about her life is true.” Excuse me, her normal life is shattered, semicolon, and she discovers???? No. You don’t put an “and” after a semicolon.
All in all, I didn’t feel like I was reading a completed book. I felt like I was reading a draft. And it needed work.
rating out of five stars
It needs a lot of revision, mainly with characters and subplots.
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