review

Review: XVI by Julia Karr

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Gif Summary Of Reading Experience

I’m having trouble beginning this review. I feel like I should give the author just a little bit of credit. This book was (I am presuming) intended to be a deconstruction of our culture’s attitude towards female sexuality. And I did appreciate that it wasn’t just one more vapid YA bag of crap with a focus on one teenager being able to save the world. I liked that the plot was personal and family-oriented, which is different for the dystopia genre.
But in the end I completely disagreed with how the author went about making her opinion on sexuality known, and it ended up being one of those stories where the world the author created needed a hero to save it because OH MY GOD WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK.

The key to writing about a future world, especially a dystopia, is to make it plausible. If you can’t make it plausible, you better have a damn good explanation why the world suddenly changed so drastically because readers don’t just let that shit slide. Even if it’s a rubbish explanation, it’s better than none at all. The world that Julia Karr has created is just so ridiculously unbelievable, I actually feel a little insulted on behalf of humanity.

The story takes place in the year 2150; not a massive leap into the future, but apparently far enough that humans have colonized the moon and other planets, have started to use bloody annoying slang, and…there was something else, what was it..? Oh yes, society’s attitudes towards feminism, religion and equal rights have taken a complete turn for the worse.

In the world of XVI, when teenagers turn sixteen they get an XVI tattoo on their wrist to signal to the world that they are adults now. That doesn’t mean they can live on their own, drink legally, or most of the things we associate with adulthood; it means they are essentially fair game. Sixteen-year-olds, or “sex-teens” as they are oh-so-affectionately called, are expected to have lots and lots of rampant sex, and are typically portrayed as wild sex-fiends.

“Everyone knows what’s expected of a girl when she turns sixteen. They don’t call it “sex-teen” for nothing. We’re all supposed to be excited about sex and willing to do whatever with practically any guy who asks”

Our protagonist Nina is one of the rare sunflowers who wants to remain virginal (read: pure) after she turns sixteen. Oh sorry, “sex-teen”. This is where our author’s very strong opinions come screaming in: not only does she constantly slut-shame women but she pulls a double whammy and portrays the vast majority of men as rapey sex-pests.

Not only is that shit wildly offensive, I have immense difficulty believing a society like that would ever exist in our future. I don’t think I’m being overly optimistic by thinking there is no way humanity would have devolved so much in less than 200 years that it’s common practice for men to “use their illegitimate daughters as Cinderella girls, servants – and other things – for their legit families“. Yes, that is a thing that happens in this world.

“If you were paying attention in class, you’d know that before they’re sixteen, girls don’t have choices. Even after you turn, guys get to make the decision about babies, if they want to.”

So men are top-dogs, women don’t have equal rights, abortion is entirely men’s choice and you know what else is a thing: “sex-teens” being drafted to become Female Liason Specialists (FeLS), which is a government sex-trade ring.

HOW ON EARTH COULD THIS FEASIBLY HAPPEN?

Today we are increasingly open about our sexuality, and we celebrate this. A lot of us agree that sex should no longer be a taboo subject and people should be allowed to indulge in their own (safe) practices without having to submit to judgement. Yes, there are problems in the world: sexual assault is disturbingly common. But people work everyday to fight this problem and educate people about it. No matter what obstacles may come, I refuse to believe that in 100+ years our progress will have done a complete 180. I don’t think men will become nothing but sex-pests, with no regard for women as equals. And a government-funded sex-slave industry, what the hell?? NO. This is America in the year 2150, not goddamn dark ages. We will not get to the point where women have to fight not to be raped on their way to their work at the brothel each morning!

“What was I going to do when I had my tattoo? It wasn’t going to be easy turning down guys who thought the tattoo was a free pass. And I wasn’t some martial arts expert like Wei.”

If our author believes that you should wait until marriage or whatever and wants to write some propaganda featuring an over-exaggerated future world she thinks we’re headed to, then that’s her opinion. I’m not going to berate her for not being an overly sexual person. But I don’t agree with her implication that the world’s going to turn into a massive clusterfuck. This isn’t just some fictional universe, it is a comment on our attitude towards sex and where Julia Kerr thinks we’re headed. And from a reader’s point of view, her novel doesn’t get any stars for the unbelievable world-building.

It’s not just the sex thing either, she fucks up massively with religion too. In XVI, religion is out-of-fashion and the government was actually banned the church from imposing any beliefs on others or preaching in the media, saying it “could be used to sow discontent and incite rioting”. Again, I have to ask, how could this happen in our future? I don’t care how many atheists/agnostics there are, religion is still so big in our culture and incredibly powerful. The government wouldn’t get that much control over it! We’re only just beginning to get equal rights for the LGBT community and the biggest reason for the delay is because of religious tradition and/or belief. Hell I don’t even have to go that far: Christian protesters are the reason the film adaptation of Northern Lights was shit.

Religious establishments have power. I cannot easily envisage a world where the government completely owns religion’s ass. I could be naïve, it could be entirely plausible, but Julia Karr you need to bloody well explain your logic because I cannot fucking see it.

“After everything I’d read about the Religion Wars, it was easy to understand how people would accept the GC’s edict.”

IS IT REALLY? For thousands of years humanity has raged wars in the name of God. In most religions, accepting one true God and trying to persuade others of this truth forms an integral part of the belief system. So why, oh so suddenly, has humanity decided “ah well, enough’s enough. The government is right, how could we not have seen this before? We should relinquish our rights to religious broadcasting and turn down monetary support from the media. Our shit will cause discontent; we shall accept the inevitable closure of our church due to lack of funds. For the good of mankind.”?

This is why I said at the beginning of the review that this book needed a hero to save the world. And maybe our MC Nina does so in the rest of the book series, but she spent almost the entire first book oblivious to the world’s problems just like the rest of humanity. It kind of reminded me of Wall-e in a way, where we see surviving humans in deep space living on a fully automated space ship engulfed in the millions of adverts surrounding them, blind to the reality that’s behind them.

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“Sandy and I talked via our PAVs so we could hear ourselves over the verts. We were plotting out the day’s events when there was a loud bang, followed by two more. Three trannies had slammed into each other right in the middle of the street. All the other traffic stopped. We clicked off our PAVs. Not one vert was blaring. There was total silence. Which was more jarring than the crash of the accident.”

This scene is right out of Wall-e and, yes, that’s a whole bunch of annoying slang right there. The technology it’s referring to isn’t even as creative as Wall-e, just re-vamped stuff we already have: PAV (Personal Audio/Video) is the in-ear Bluetooth. Verts are adverts, because shortening the term to “ads” is just uncool in Granite Middle School, Cementville. I shit you not, that is where they live. Oh and guess what they call transportation? Trannies.

I don’t know why Julia Karr thought using a modern-day slur out of context in her book was a good idea. Probably for mature and sensitive sentences like these:

“Are you coming into town? I told him you really like trannies, too.”

“When the hire-trannie rounded the corner, I grabbed Sandy and held her tight.”

“You know, Sal’s cool. He likes music and his brother has all those great trannies.”

“While I waited, a trannie with a couple of guys inside stopped at the light.”

When the only comedy in your novel is by using the word trannie in this way, you’re not funny. And in my eyes, not really a decent person.

Do I need to say any more about this shit novel? Have I warded you away?  Did I mention the virginal, slut-shaming protagonist whose Bechdel-test failing BFF Sandy gets raped and murdered after being villainized for 300+ pages because she wears skirts and wants to lose her virginity? Did I also mention that Nina gets a boyfriend, and urges, and ultimately accepts that it’s okay to have sex when she’s good and ready? I mean the hypocrisy is unreal here. It would be one thing if Sandy was dressing provocatively and obsessing over sex if she felt compelled to by society. But this is never mentioned. No matter what role society and the media may have played in her decision-making process, Sandy comes across entirely as a teenager who is self-assured, confident in her sexuality and ready to have sex. So why is she slut-shamed? If Nina can have sex when she’s ready, why the fuck can’t Sandy?

Be honest Julia Kerr, this book isn’t about “being okay with waiting until you’re ready”, is it? It reads like you look down on women who have a fair bit of sex, and it really sounds like you endorse the “she was asking to be raped” philosophy.

Julia Karr, with the greatest respect,

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