Nina Oberon’s life is pretty normal: she hangs out with her best friend, Sandy, and their crew, goes to school, plays with her little sister, Dee. But Nina is 15. And like all girls she’ll receive a Governing Council-ordered tattoo on her 16th birthday. XVI. Those three letters will be branded on her wrist, announcing to all the world—even the most predatory of men—that she is ready for sex. Considered easy prey by some, portrayed by the Media as sluts who ask for attacks, becoming a “sex-teen” is Nina’s worst fear. That is, until right before her birthday, when Nina’s mom is brutally attacked. With her dying breaths, she reveals to Nina a shocking truth about her past—one that destroys everything Nina thought she knew. Now, alone but for her sister, Nina must try to discover who she really is, all the while staying one step ahead of her mother’s killer. – Goodreads
I’ve been sitting on writing this review for over a week now so it’s likely that 1) it won’t be very long and 2) I won’t remember many of the details from the book. Let’s give this a go!
XVI has a very interesting premise that didn’t quite live up to its potential for me. Set in 2150, Nina Oberon lives in a society that brands girls with a tattoo once they turn sixteen. The tattoo signifies their sexual availability – once they have it they’re up for grabs by any boy/man who wants them.
Because of the way she was raised, and the things she has seen, Nina is naturally opposed to the way things are. Unlike her best friend Sandy, who anxiously looks foward to turning sixteen, Nina dreads the day she’ll get the tattoo and the pressures it will bring.
I felt that Nina was right to feel the way she did. She’s a strong character who sees through the lies and brainwashing of the Governing Council. Unfortunately, with the rest of the characters, it felt that there were no shades of gray when it came to sex. There were the creeps – Ed – and the silly and shallow – Sandy – who embraced the culture, and then there were the rational, levelheaded ones – such as Nina, Wei, and Sal – who abstained from sex. I felt that there should have been a middle ground, an exploration of a healthy sexual relationship versus this fear of it all. Even as Nina and Sal grow closer, Nina feels ashamed by any intimacy between them, as if she’s doing something wrong.
The dystopia itself left me with many questions: Why sixteen? Why not when girls get their menstrual cycles? What purpose does the Governing Council have with this sexteen culture? How and why did people accept it? Fair enough, this is the beginning of a series, and I’m sure things will be expanded on, but it felt like we only got the tiniest glimpse into what could be a much bigger story. I don’t think I’ll be continuing on with any of the future books, but I do hope the dystopian aspects are further explored.