Book Review: XVI by Julia Karr

Nina is about to turn sixteen, but she isn’t expecting the kind of experience that probably comes to mind for most girls in today’s world. Set in Chicago in the year 2150, XVI tells the story of Nina’s not-so-sweet final months before she legally becomes an adult. When she turns sixteen, she will receive a government-mandated tattoo showing her age, and be available for FeLS, a program advertised as a wonderful opportunity for lower-class girls to rise to a better place in society, but may not be everything it seems. On top of general futuristic teenage angst, Nina must deal with multiple close deaths and family secrets.

XVI is one part dystopia to about three parts angsty teenage romance and another part bad writing. The concept and the world are amazing, but the book itself fell flat. The characters, especially Nina, are not well developed and show very little emotional depth. We follow Nina through much of her everyday life, even when it has nothing to do with the actual plot, and it seems that even she gets distracted from her quest at several points along the way. Nina shows emotion, but in a stilted and overly typical manner; she was not a genuinely believable character to me. For instance, multiple people who Nina is close to die, and although she cries and tells the reader that she must make herself numb in order to keep going, she never really seems to grieve. For that matter, no one else ever grieves either. Only once does her younger sister say she misses one of the people they were close to. Aside from that, everyone just keeps on with life as if nothing significant happened. Additionally, there is an unrealistic amount of responsibility put on some of these teenagers. At one point some of the adults (who never play as large of a role on-screen so to speak as it is implied they do between chapters) tell one sixteen-year-old girl to act as her fifteen-year-old friend’s bodyguard. This may be acceptable for facing mean girls at school, but not for taking on ex-government agents. Despite the hype of turning sixteen in this futuristic world, I still do not think that this would have been acceptable to anyone.

Overall, XVI is not a great book. Surprisingly, the ending is actually the best part of the book, but it couldn’t make up for how boring and unbelievable the rest was. While not everything is explained in the end, Nina’s problems are fairly well wrapped up. However, because I was never able to really connect with Nina, which could contribute to the fact that I have no questions about the rest of her life. I am glad that Karr did not attempt to fulfill the current trope of writing a dystopian trilogy, because if that story was drawn out into three books I do not think I would have read past the first one. It just is not interesting.

The one word that describes XVI to me is disappointing. Not because I had heard anything about it before or had terribly high expectations, but because the premise was so intriguing. There are some great ideas behind this book, but they are not worked out. Sadly, I give XVI by Julia Karr 1.5 stars.

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