It’s the anniversary of the first Ungood Book Commentary I ever posted! Yay!
So here’s another one.
Back to dystopia now, this is the book ‘XVI’ wherein at age sixteen all girls get a tattoo of the number XVI on their wrist, advertising them as available for sex. The tagline is: ‘In the future, innocence ends at sixteen’. (as opposed to the present, where it ends the minute a porn pop-up gets through your ad-blocker, long before sixteen).
Condensed review on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/582688062
Our heroine Nina wanders around with her dumb best friend Sandy (yep, it’s another of those characters. Yay.) talking about boys and other exciting topics. Exposition is dumped like the barrels of toxic waste from Troll 3; everyone has a GPS tracker, tattooing numbers on people has been going on ever since the Overlords saw the Black Cat anime—uh, I mean, for twenty years, Nina’s mother is against the program, there’s a caste system (I wonder if fives are artists?), and everyone’s a vegetarian.
Crap. Everyone’s a vegetarian in my book too.
… I thought of it first!
(I didn’t really. I did think of it independently though. I’m Alfred Russell Wallace to this author’s Darwin! Well, not really, Wallace didn’t believe in evolution as it pertained to human beings because of his religious views concerning the nature of—
Oops. Turned into my mum there. Never mind.)
Nina then tells us some more about her woes of her mother’s abusive boyfriend being married to another woman, as she and Sandy go to visit her crazy grandparents.
A minute of silence is held because of La Resistance, here called ‘NonCon’s because the Overlords require trigger warnings. Nina tells us her mother taught her that they were all individuals and they all had to think for themselves, and they were not the messiah—they were a very naughty boy. Nina is the only one that thinks this way, of course, because she’s special.
They arrive at the old people’s home so Nina can exposit more on how her dad died after her grandfather had an accident and lost his leg, and how the NonCons killed Sandy’s dad, only she doesn’t think they did because like all La Resistance, the NonCons wouldn’t kill people! It must have been the Overlords!
While Nina’s grandfather is eccentric, the Evil Overlords’ Minions search the building for NonCons. We learn that the grandparents also hate the government, and they’re religious. Also people live on the moon now, which is apparently ‘sacrilegious’.
I don’t know!
Then Grandma pops by to tell Sandy she dresses like a whore, and that someone got taken away by the Ministry of Love, which in this dystopia is called B.O.S.S., so I guess this is what will happen when Jethro Gibbs takes over the world.
Nina and Sandy leave to go have some lunch, while talking about how the government conspires to keep poor people under control with drugs in the food! And how much the police suck when they stop them for an ID check! And how the CIA put radios in her teeth at night! We believe in anarchy!
Then Nina wonders out loud about a suspected NonCon, and Sandy tells her that if he is a NonCon, he’ll be ‘re-assimilated’ by the Borg—uh, B.O.S.S.
Uh, did Nina not already know that? Except she did, because it happened to one of their teachers, who used to be fun, and now is all boring. The overlords suck! Apparently so much so that people have to remind each other about it all the time in case they forget!
Nina and Sandy meet up with some guys called Mike and Derek. Mike has an injury given by his dad who’s apparently routinely experimented on by the government. The truth is out there!
So, can we hear more about this XVI thing yet? I get that this is a dystopia now, you can start with the gimmick.
Okay, here we go; during lunch Nina says how she doesn’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend because that would mean having sex, and in this society girls should have sex with whoever asks them. Which isn’t quite the same as being someone’s girlfriend, Nina.
Sandy say she can’t wait until selection day, because she can sign up to be a ‘FeLS’ along with the other poor girls and become a diplomat. IN SPACE! Although they’re never seen again, so somehow I sense another government conspiracy.
Nina whines about everyone talking about sex again, and reminds them about a girl they knew who got raped and set on fire, because that’s what dirty, filthy SEX leads to! Nina instead goes to admire a statue of Abraham Lincoln, letting us know that there’s no USA anymore and it’s all run by ‘councils’ because…
And then she comes across a homeless guy being beaten up.
Nina intervenes, and the athletes beating the hobo up immediately consider raping her, but don’t because they’ll be late for practice. Great motivations! Wait, if these guys can rape her and get away with it because they’re athletes even before she’s sixteen… why is turning sixteen so bad? Because now poor people are allowed to rape her too?
But Nina makes a new homeless friend out of the encounter, so it’s all good. In fact, the guy (whose name is Sal) may even be a Generic Love Interest, because he’s not really homeless at all, and I’m guessing he’s secretly with La Resistance!
Derek (the hypotenuse in a Generic Love Triangle? Only time will tell…) gives Nina a charm for her bracelet because a heroine’s got to have some meaningful jewellery, amirite? Sandy berates her because apparently helping homeless people is a criminal offence. (?)
They talk about turning sixteen again, and Sandy says it’ll be great, ’cause they’ll be able to have sex! While Nina says it’ll be bad because they could get raped, even though they already can. No, Nina’s going to art school instead (hooray?) even though her family was supposedly poor (unless this is the Selection rules caste system).
And then they go to the zoo to meet up with the twats from ‘Born at Midnight’.
No, not really; this is the future so I’m guessing those idiots are all dead by now.
After a ‘look at the cute widdle animals!’ interlude, Sal pops up again. He’s covered in bruises, so Derek asked if he ‘kissed a trans’.
Uh… I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it means…
Generic friend Mike exposits that Sal’s parents died in a crash of some sort, (no doubt another government plot), and apparently dead parents are a turn-on for Sandy, so she starts flirting, which annoys Nina because how dare Sandy flirt with a boy!
Sal tells them he lives with his brother, working in public transport, to which Mike replies:
“You work on trannies? That is so cool.”
I’m saying nothing, guys.
Nina then compares Sandy’s thinking Sal is attractive with the athletes who threatened to rape her, because that’s exactly the same kind of thing! And then good old Mike gives Sal Nina’s number without her permission. There hasn’t been such a good friend since Miles from Evermore!
And like Haven from Evermore, Sandy immediately hates Nina for Sal being more interested in her, which Nina blames on the whole XVI thing, when it’s really because Sandy is badly written.
Nina goes to watch her sister Dee so her mum can have a date with her abusive boyfriend, or actually, so she can meet someone called ‘Rita’. A series of boring conversations ensue, and then the fuzz show up. Dun dun dun!
Well, Nina’s mum’s been stabbed off-page, and the news is broken off-page too, for maximum dramatic effect.
They go to the hospital, where the mum’s been put on life support via the ‘Infinity Machine’, which mum had apparently always said was dangerous technology that should be outlawed!… for some reason. The rules of the machine are explained to the girls; they can talk to their mother for ten minutes each. That’s pretty much ‘the rules’.
Nothing about how the machine works? No? Come on, even techno-babble is better than nothing!
After some clichéd sappy goodbye crap, Nina’s mum tells her that her father is still alive and she must go to the Dagobah system to find him and learn the ways of the Force. Or that he’s in Chicago and she has to give him a book—the late fees from the library are going to be killer.
And she dies! /Phelous
So, Nina and Dee are taken to some agents of B.O.S.S., where we learn that Dee is supposed to be eleven, though she’s acted like she’s about six for this whole time. They search the house, steal their copy of ‘1984’, tell them Big Brother’s watching, twirl their evil moustaches and then bugger off.
The girls go to live with their grandparents, Nina making sure to keep Dee away from Abusive!Dad, because in this dystopia men can use their illegitimate daughters as servants. Uh, if girls over the age of sixteen have to put out for all and sundry, doesn’t that create kind of a problem when it comes to legitimate and illegitimate children?
So Nina asks Granny about Rita and stuff and finds out she might have been in the FeLS, or kidnapped, there’s some bitching about the evil government, boring stuff happens…
And then Abusive!Dad tries to call Dee!
…which leads to nothing. Nina tells Granny that her dad might be alive, and Granny’s like ‘whatevs, brah’, and tells her exactly how her father died, as she apparently didn’t already know. Maybe she has anterograde amnesia, which is why everyone has to keep telling her stuff like this?
Grandpa One-Leg says he wouldn’t be surprised if Missing!Dad was alive, because he’s been around a while and he’s read books like this before.
Nina goes out to buy some food, and runs into Sal, who tells her he’s sorry about her mother’s death, which prompts Nina to go ‘You don’t knooooooow me!’ and try to flounce, but he stops her because there has to be a romance in the book.
Ah, the quarter-way mark. Well, I think we can safely say we have a plot in this one, mediocre as it is.
Nina and her annoying sister angst about their mother and we are blessed with Nina’s deep and thoughtful views of religion.
“Religion seemed to me like one group of people telling another that their colour of red was the best. And that everyone had to believe that, or else.”
Thank you for that, Nina. Since the overlords outlawed religion I guess I’m going to have to file this one under ‘blasphemy against the holy periodic table’.
And then Sal shows up again. Hooray.
Nina spends some time berating herself for daring to be attracted to a guy, and Sal gives us his own wangsty backstory about his parents dying and the overlords not giving him any benefits.
Then La Resistance manages to broadcast a message about the overlords, and people think it’s the ‘Elliminator’, the leader of the NonCons.
Calling it now—it’s Nina’s dad.
More boring conversations and reflections ensue. Sigh. This is the trouble with YA dystopia. So little time to give an accurate picture of the world, flesh out the characters and have a plot that the go-to mode of storytelling resides in the good old infodump.
Well, it’s the old ‘first day at school’ trope, and Nina meets a girl called Wei, who’s done some creative thingamy-bob with her tattoo, because it’s illegal to cover it up and…
Well, now’s as good a time as any to ask the big question: Why?
… no one will get that reference.
But anyway, why tattoo every girl over sixteen with ‘XVI’ to mark them as available for sex? To control the people? How? If the overlords believe that all women should put out for all and sundry because they’re just evil, why bother with the tattooing thing? Did people not care about what a big deal this was when this policy was instituted? Was this something the overlords came up with one day when they were high? If you wanted to make a commentary on over-sexualisation of teenage girls, couldn’t you have come up with something a bit more… practical?
Meh, I’m bored with serious questions—back to the boring plot! Nina thinks Wei might be Sal’s girlfriend because she saw them in the general vicinity of one another, but then dismisses that theory because they weren’t holding hands!
Grandma tells Nina about some of the photos in the Big Book o’ Plot Device, her dad’s old friend Jonathan, their old hangouts, and then—with the help of her trusty surveillance scrambler—launches into a tirade about how evil the overlords are, and how they’re brainwashing everybody with the media!
Um… is there seriously anyone left in this dystopia who doesn’t know the government are evil? As for the brainwashed by the media thing, I always feel that the media’s influence on our lives is overestimated, otherwise Chick Tracts would actually work. I’d blame the whole drugs-in-the-food thing before the cheesy adverts.
Still, Grandma doesn’t miss the opportunity to berate Sandy some more for being a ho, then she abruptly leaves so Nina can do some reminiscing about Abusive!Dad and wangst for the future of the human race!
XVI! XVI! The number of the beast!
Yeah, this looks to be a chapter as boring as any other. Nina has another conversation with Wei, who tells her she understands her, so I guess her parents were also killed by the overlords (the overlords should really just cut their losses and kill the children as well, they all join La Resistance anyway).
Then Nina goes to the old hangout, to find Sal—being creepy. They have a special moment. And another. And another. And it goes on. And on. And on.
Oh, and there’s some smooching. Yay.
Nina takes a break from Sal to have a conversation with Wei—no doubt the replacement best friend character in the vein of Amelia, Stevie-Rae, Della and Miranda, etc. She tells Wei she wasn’t very good at art, then tells the audience she was at the top of her old class. I guess her old class were just shit.
Wei tells her that their parents all used to be friends, and wants to bring her over.
Now that she’s had her first kiss, Nina divides her life up between ‘before kiss’ and ‘after kiss’.
Sandy phones up to ask Nina if she can ask Abusive!Dad to put in a good word for her at FeLS, but shockingly Nina is upset with this. It’s no wonder people are worried about Sandy becoming legal—I’m not sure if her tiny brain is capable of informed consent!
Nina thinks about Abusive!Dad and how he might have killed her mother, then has a boring conversation about it with her grandparents. Then she has a boring conversation about it with her friends.
More boringness with Sal happens, and he starts asking questions about her father, which makes Nina think that’s the only reason he’s interested in her and so he randomly reveals some important plot points.
Turns out Nina’s dad was the leader of the NonCons and possibly faked his own death, and the day Sal’s parents died they were trying to find him. Nina is aghast that her father might have been a criminal—even though she herself hated the government and so did her mother, but her anterograde amnesia must be acting up because Sal has to tell her that La Resistance are the good guys.
Then he says that even though the government says things are good, they’re actually bad. What a twist. And Nina thinks for the first time that the whole XVI thing is bad!
Wait, she thought that the whole time! This amnesia is really serious, any minute now she’s going to ask Sal ‘Who are you… WHAT DID YOU DO’ /Pulse3
Then she flounces.
Abusive!Dad drops by trying to see Dee, so Nina gets the dream team to shuttle her back and forth everywhere. Meanwhile Wei decides she and Derek will make a good Beta couple for the book, and Nina approves of how she looks at him in a nice way, and not in a slutty way like that ho Sandy!
So Nina brings Wei over to her house, gushing about how awesome she is.
(CONTINUED IN PART II)