I can honestly say that I don't remember where I first read about this book or who first recommended it to me. By the time I got around to reading it, it had been recommended so many times, I just grabbed it. Rarely do I randomly grab books (I am a dedicated patron-initiated-hold-placer, thankyouverymuch) without at least remembering what they are about. But I remembered the cover and I knew I'd only heard good things, so I went for it. This is one of the library books I faithfully carted to and from Germany this summer and with weight restrictions the way they are nowdays, I can honestly say this book is worth it's flight weight! Such a fantastic read and such an interesting storyline.
Nina Oberon is fifteen. The day she turns sixteen she, like every other girl will receive the "XVI" tatoo on her wrist. And she'll be legal - as in it will be legal to have sex with her. Nina lives in a world where sixteen = "sexteen" and girls can't wait to get their tatoos and become legal. But Nina can wait - she, unlike her best friend Sandy, isn't interested in sex and boys. She is extremely close to her mother and half sister, and cares more about getting her creative designation so she can study art and make something of her life. When her mother is murdered, Nina discovers that there is a possibility that her father - who died when she was very young - is still alive, and she finds herself in the middle of an extremely dangerous conspiracy theory. She doesn't know what is true and what isn't, and she is forced to rely on people she has just recently met to keep herself, her sister and her family's secrets (that she doesn't completely understand yet) safe.
While I would not recommend this book for middle grade students, I would definitely recommend it for high school aged students - male and female alike. The idea that sex is legal at a particular age, and then sensationalized is really not that far fetched. Sandy's obsession with turning sixteen and her constant desire to make herself attractive to men/boys is something that, I think, teenagers do without realizing. By reading a book where those sorts of behaviors can be dangerous in a very real way might help some girls understand the risks they take - even if the dangers in our present society aren't as strikingly obvious and prevalent (at least they aren't in my happy little world). And on the other side of the gender coin, by reading a book like this, boys might realize that just because a girl dresses a certain way does not make her "fair game" or "available".
But the beauty of Karr's debut novel is not only that it will make students think, it's action packed and well written. I could not put the sucker down (I know, I know, which books can I put down?). And though the ending does lend itself to a sequel, a sequel is not necessary (though according to her website, the sequel Truth will be available Jan 2012. AND according to her website XVI has been translated into German (that makes this former-German-teacher very happy!)
Other reviews of XVI:
Review by another Colorado Librarian, who wasn't necessarily a fan: http://yalibrariantales.blogspot.com/2010/12/review-xvi-by-julia-karr.html
Student review as found on Genrefluent's Bistro Book Club: