Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Take On: XVI by Julia Karr

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.
At first I was shocked (and disgusted) by the premise. I work with teens, and the thought of the underlying message was frightening, but I applaud Karr for choosing this as her subject and for handling it with such class. It's something that we definitely need to discuss more, something that we need to change.

Now, this review ran a little long, and I know that's a big turn-off for some readers, so I'll first do a quick sum-up with...
A Few Choice Words:
  • Tense
  • Frightening
  • Plausible
  • Timely
  • Well written
  • Some swearing, including 1 or 2 F-bombs
  • Implied sexual content throughout, though nothing explicit or graphic, including violent acts
Now on to my my take.
In Nina's world, which is frighteningly similar in some ways to our own, kids--not just girls, this is a two-way street, folks--are raised viewing sex as, well, the closest word to it that I think of, and I know it falls short of what Karr was trying to say, is a goal or rite of passage or recreation. This was best displayed in the attitude of Nina's best friend, Sandy, who blindly followed all of the Media's hype about turning sixteen by her dress, which was skimpy at best, her behavior, which degraded her value as a human being immeasurably, and her language, which was so sex-driven1 I felt bad for Nina having to feign interest. But despite all this, Sandy was a nice girl. Under all the layers of makeup and the too-few layers of sexteen2 clothing, she was a sweet girl who loved visiting the cows at the zoo, hanging out with her friends, and dreaming about the future. You never would've known any of this, however, by mere observation. The face that she put forth to the world was one of over-sexualized abandon ready and willing for anything with anyone. And that's exactly how the Governing Council wanted her, and all teenage girls, to be. By insidiously enforcing this mold on the youth of their society through clever propaganda and extreme marketing, they ensured that women were seen as second class at best, though more often than not they were completely objectionalized, abused, and disregarded. In this way, the Governing Council ensured that no one had the sense to look beyond what was right in front of their face, that being the latest trend or the hottest whoever, to see that there was indeed something wrong with the way their society functioned and that they desperately needed to change it.
Now about that two-way street I mentioned earlier: Women were completely objectionalized by the society at large and this was brought to the story in the person of the scariest, most despicable, revolting, and realistic villain ever, along with a cast of brutal yet equally realistic secondary characters who were present mainly to drive the plot or illustrate some aspect of the belief system that Nina's harsh world (mal)functioned under. There were some truly frightening men in this story, but Karr didn't completely write off the whole gender, which would have been a shame. She included a cast of admirable and even chivalrous male characters, such as Nina grandfather and best friends. And this story, when looked at from another perspective, is not just about the negative effect that sexual degradation has on the over all treatment of women, it's also about the backlash that men experience in the same situation. They weren't as obviously opressed as women, but the men of this society--which, allow me to reiterate, was a lot like our own in many ways--were encouraged to act on their most base instincts. They were encouraged to act like animals and were raised viewing women as something to be conquered3 and owned. It was one of the saddest things, I think, that the men had lost their spine, their desire to treat women with respect, and thus to treat themselves with respect.
Okay. I'm going to cut myself off before I continue to ramble, and say that XVI gets...
...five zombies.
And how could I give it less when it held such an important underlying message, that being the importance of chastity in the battle to protect and uphold human dignity. When we sell ourselves short by allowing ourselves to become sexual object's, or by treating others in that manner, we damage our dignity. And I'm not talking about pride, as in "I have my dignity!", I'm talking about our God-given dignity. The thing that sets us apart from animals.

I am
Zombie Girrrl
and I endorse this book.
1.  Not that her language was particularly derogatory. Mostly she would say stupid things like how she wished she could have sex with whatever sex-symbol the government-run Media pushing, and, oh, how cool would it be, and sex must be the best thing ever, yada yada yada. Nina mostly tuned her insipid ramblings out, until she realized her friend was endangered by her eagerness. Ooh, teaser.
2.  Not a typo.
3  Sound familiar?


M.A.D. said...

ZG - incredibly thoughtful review!!! I'm writing this one down to add to my serious TBR list, as some of my own thoughts/concerns/observations concerning the trend towards society & media *sexualizing* young women ... nay, even GIRLS ... while at the same time espousing morality & chasity seems hypocrital, and leading us down a slippery, dangerous slope.

It's nice to hear that the author, realistically I might add, did not tar all males with the same brush - because reality is not quite that simple.

Anyhoo - just wanted to say you wrote a wonderfully insightful review and now I must read this book!
PS - when I see your FIVE ZOMBIES, then I KNOW it's gotta be good lol, kinda like the old *Good Housekeeping seal* for us bibliophiles ;D

Zombie Girrrl said...

Thanks, Mary Ann! This really was an amazing book. I'm still thinking about it, and I probably will be for a while to come.

Kristina said...

I was thinking about reading this book. I think I am going to now.

New follower :)


P.S. I love the name of your blog.

Natalie (Mindful Musings) said...

I love books that leave you thinking about them long after you read the last page! This is on my to-read list, though I've seen a lot of mixed reviews. The concept intrigues me either way, so I'm planning to give it a shot. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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