In the year 2150, girls are branded with a tattoo on their wrists proclaiming their status as a sixteen year old. This public display of their age is supposedly to protect them and provide freedom, but it really makes them a target for exploitation and sexual violence. Nina Oberon is especially nervous about turning 16. Most of the other girls in her position are excited about dating boys and being viewed as more mature because how the media portrays this age. On television, magazines, and advertisements, girls are encouraged to dress provocatively and learn to attract men. They are also encouraged to join FeLs, Feminine Liaison Specialist service, which is the only way for lower class girls to rise above their station. The organization is shrouded in mystery and not many people hear from girls after their required time there. Nina’s mother was working to uncover part of this mystery, but she is suddenly killed by her boyfriend. Nina is now determined to continue her mother’s work, but she needs to find her father. The only problem is she thought he died many years ago. Can she find her father and solve the mystery before she is killed as well?
In XVI, Julia Karr takes a negative aspect of our own society and augments it exponentially. Ours is a patriarchal society and women are frequently objectified and idealized in the media in ways not possible to naturally look. This is a negative, but generally accepted or ignored part of our society. We can see this in legislation trying to redefine rape to not include statutory rape or date rape, attacks on Planned Parenthood, blaming victims for rape, advertisements that objectify women to sell items, and legislation to criminalize both abortion and miscarriages. This is a real problem, but this book takes it even further, giving women next to no rights. A woman is killed in the novel and it's not a pressing matter at all to find her killer because she is the lowest of the low in this society: poor and a woman. One of my problems with this novel is that it's never explained why women are treated this way. I guess the rationale is the current misogynistic views evolve to be bigger and even more pervasive, but I would like something a little more concrete to base it off of. The lack of even trying to present a reason just makes it harder for me to suspend my disbelief.
I really like how overpowering the media was in the book. There are literally advertisements being blasted at people 24/7. When they are interrupted by the Resistance, people are shocked and pandemonium ensues. Information is skewed and distorted through the media to lull the masses into a false sense of security. I also like that Nina and her friend Sandy provide two polar opposites. Nina does not want to be considered a sexual being and resists the advertising and brainwashing. Sandy, on the other hand, plunges head first into dressing provocatively. Sandy and the media in XVI are a commentary on our own society. The media promotes the American ideal of beauty which is nothing really resembling natural beauty. Sandy represents the young girls who are effected by these images and work to appear less smart to attract a man.
There are a few things that bothered me about this book. Nina is pretty inconsistent and frustrates me with her antics at times. One minute she's super overprotective of her sister and then the next she seems to forget about her altogether. It just didn't really make sense to me and made me want to shake her. Some of the language in the novel is weird. For instance, cars are now known as "trannies." I think an author writing now should be aware of current slang. I just laughed to myself every time I saw the word and that brings me out of the story. The word "sexteen" is repeated a ridiculous amount in the novel and it eventually became an annoyance. The mysteries that consume Nina for most of the book are predictable and I figured them out very early on.
XVI is a quick dystopic read that leads the reader to examine their own society. There are a few flaws, including annoying words and a predictable plot, but it is a good introduction to science fiction.
My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins