XVI, the debut novel by Julia Karr, has several eye-catching taglines:
In the future, innocence expires at sixteen.
and
For Nina, turning sixteen promises to be anything but sweet.

The concept of this sometime-in-our-future world is this: in order to make society safer, the government has taken several drastic steps.  Tracking devices are implanted in all citizens, surveillance devices are everywhere, the police have the authority to confiscate anything that they consider illegal, and every girl must get an “XVI” tattoo on her wrist when she turns sixteen.  That tattoo indicates to the rest of society that she is ready to legally have sex.  Many girls can’t wait to get their tattoos, but Nina is not one of them.  Since Nina’s father died when she was born, she was raised by her mother Ginnie who tried to instill some of her free-thinking values in her daughter.

As is usually the case when there is such a strict and powerful government, there is a strong resistance movement that operates in the shadows of society.  These people are called NonCons, and little by little Nina discovers that not only are these people all around her, but many of them are closely linked with her parents.  Also as usual when there is a dystopian society with a girl as the main character, there is a cute and rebellious boy waiting in the wings to help her try to break free of that society.

Right now the literary market is filled with dystopian fiction featuring teenage girls as the main characters.  There’s The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Matched by Ally Condie, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, and Divergent by Veronica Roth, just to name a few.  So you might be asking … do we really need MORE dystopian fiction on our shelves?  Well, I’m going to say yes for two reasons: yes because teen readers want more of the same, and yes because teen readers want something different.  XVI is a great recommendation for your teen readers (or your adult readers who tiptoed over into the young adult section) who already read those other books and are craving more stories set in dystopian societies.  XVI is also a great recommendation because of its unique spin on the idea of the rules a government will use in order to control its people.

In some ways, Delirium by Lauren Oliver and XVI by Julia Karr are two sides of the same coin.  In Delirium, the government decrees that all of its citizens will be cured of the disease amor deliria nervosa (aka “love”) when they turn eighteen.  So the world is filled with teenagers who are afraid of love because of its rumored side-effects (pain, depression, and even death) and adults who have taken the cure who are now living without any of those troubling highs and lows that come with being in love.  In XVI teenage girls receive a mandatory tattoo on their sixteenth birthdays, and it is understood that at this point they SHOULD be having sex.  In fact, the government-sanctioned advertisements (or “verts”) bombard citizens into sensory overload with messages about the importance of turning “sex-teen.”

And yet in both of these books, each of our heroines learn what it means to love a boy so much that they feel those soaring highs, those crashing lows, and the desire to break free of the only life they’ve ever known.

XVI is not a book about abstinence.  It’s a book about choices, and what it would be like to live under a government that made those choices for you.  It’s easy to like Nina and feel her pain.  We have the advantage of understanding how unnatural her society is, and we cheer for her when she starts tearing off her blinders and begins to see what’s really going on around her.  She is a girl who thought she would have an ordinary life, but she had the seeds of rebellion planted in her and by reading this book we get to watch them bloom.

XVI is available now, and the sequel, Truth, is being released on January 19th.

Crossed by Ally Condie is the long-awaited sequel to her 2010 hit Matched, and it’s the second book in the Matched trilogy.  In Matched we meet Cassia, a girl who lives in a world where many of life’s most important decisions are made for her.  She discovers after attending her matching ceremony — where she learns the identity of the boy she’s going to marry — that the perfect future she’d been hoping for has a crack in it.  If you haven’t read Matched yet (and really, you should!), you can learn more about it in my earlier post here.

In Crossed, Cassia has grown up a lot since we first met her.  She’s had her eyes opened about what it really means to live and die in the society she grew up in.  She also learns more about the world that exists outside of that society, in places where people chose to live without those rules.  Fans of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series (or, for that matter, fans of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World) will enjoy the examination of people who live outside of “normal” society.  And fans of the Hunger Games love triangle (Should Katniss chose Gale or Peeta?) will be equally enthralled by the choice that Cassia has to make (Should she choose Ky or Xander?)

Crossed takes the groundwork that was laid in Matched and develops several of the characters further.  And no, I’m not going to tell you which ones because I’m not going to spoil it for you.  I will tell you that there are many flashbacks, so you will learn more about who these characters were in order to understand who they are now.  I will also tell you that this story is told through the point of view of several characters, so you will get a fuller understanding of this world by seeing it through several pairs of eyes.

I will also tell you this: You will learn about the blue tablets.  You will learn about the Rising.  You will learn about the Aberrations and the Anomalies.  And you will learn about the power of words, poetry, history, and hope.

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