{Review} Truth by Julia Karr

{Review} Truth by Julia Karr

On the day before I started reading Truth, the sequel to the excellent 2011 release XVI, I tweeted the following:

I kind of feel like I just need to quit dystopians cold turkey. At this point, they’re just aggravating me. Hopefully ninjas or something will be the next big thing, because I need something new.

Actually, yes, ninjas would be excellent.

Then I picked up the sequel to my favorite 2011 dystopian release* and remembered that the subgenre isn’t quite on life-support yet. 

Truth picks up shortly after XVI left off—if you have not read XVI or need a refresher, here’s a quick rundown of the premise and what I appreciated about it (my Goodreads review is here): 

  • Nina Oberon lives in a future version of the United States ruled by a misogynist Governing Council with the aid of a corrupt version of the media;
  • One of the main keys to the government’s control over the population is their control over the sexual availability of girls once they are 16—each girl gets a tattoo of “XVI” on their wrist and is therefore deemed available to any man who wants them, it is a culture that encourages rape and sexual control, and it is extremely disturbing;
  • The role the media plays in pushing teen and tween girls to act and behave in a way that encourages this culture is even more disturbing because it is not all that different from modern Western society;
  • Nina’s family has a history of involvement in the resistance movement and she becomes increasingly involved in it herself as she approaches her sixteenth birthday. (This is one of the things I most appreciated about XVI—there was context for her fighting the powers that be. In so many YA dystopians, the lead is just a special snowflake and we’re just supposed to accept that’s why she’s fighting the bad guys.); 
  • Karr’s writing is tight and makes the Nina’s hyper-commercial, disturbing world come to life; and
  • I read XVI as a standalone, not knowing it was a planned trilogy and it actually worked as a single book!

If you have not read XVI, and don’t want to be spoiled for that book, I strongly recommend you do not continue reading my review of Truth! Do not pass Go!, instead, read XVI, and come back and read my review of Truth.

We find Nina back in school, but her involvement with the resistance, her new relationship with oft-unavailable resistance member Sal (an interesting storyline in the first book, as Nina tries to avoid relationships because she does not want to be a victim of the expectation that she be sexually available to any male—teen or adult—who wants her), the revelation that her father is still alive and her fresh XVI tattoo has changed her. And, she is increasingly frustrated that her involvement in the resistance is limited because she is a girl. See the rub here? She’s allied with a resistance movement that’s fighting against a misogynist regime, yet sexism pervades the culture of the resistance as well. (Which, if you’re a nerd like me an studied women’s history in college, if very, very typical of revolutionary/resistance movements.) Add in that she’s a Tier Two (low economic class), that she’s lost her best friend to murder and rape and that she’s recently avoided being part of a sex trafficking ring and things are tough in Nina’s world.

With all this frustration coming to a head, Nina becomes involved in the Sisterhood—a shadow group of women aiding the resistance movement. Much of Truth focuses on this story, as well as on the fate of Nina’s grandfather, who is arrested for subversion early in the novel. What thrilled me is that this installment of the series answered many of the questions that I had after finishing XVI—how often does that happen in a sequel? We learn much more about how the current regime came into power, which also explains the Governing Council’s attempts to control the female population through violence and fear. The “meh” feelings that lots of folks had toward Sal in XVI make far more sense in the context of Truth. And, one of my biggest wishes, that we understood more of what it is like for the male teens living in the effed up, hyper-sexualized world is addressed in the sequel. We also get to know Nina’s new friends (made via her involvement with the resistance movement) and learn about the tensions between the different social classes they represent. It sounds like there’s a lot happening in Truth, but the story actually moved quite quickly, despite that the “action” is isolated to the end of the novel (XVI felt more action-oriented, despite that the stakes are higher in Truth). 

There are a lot of consequences for everyone’s actions in Truth—even more so than in XVI.

However, like the first novel, things are wrapped up, leaving me wanting a sequel, because I want to spend more time with Nina and her friends and know what happens to them as there lives continue to change dramatically, not because I was left hanging off of the proverbial cliff. My hope is that the issue of sexism within the resistence movement will be further explored in the trilogy’s final installment, as that is one of the stand-out elements within Truth. There are hints of a future love triangle, but I have faith in Karr’s storytelling that it will be handled in a way that preserves the integrity of the series, and not in a dramatic, “Which boy will she chooose?!” fashion.

Fingers crossed.

As with XVI, when I finished Truth, I was left wondering why this series hasn’t received more attention. It’s got a lot of the elements of popular, less quality, YA dystopians: action, scary governments, a dash of romance, yet it seems that there’s hardly a mention of it. My only assumption is that both of Karr’s novels deal overtly with the issue of sex as power—and that’s a pretty edgy thing for a lot of people, particularly for a young adult novel. 

Verdict: Highly Recommend

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{Visit the author’s website.}

*My rankings of 2011 YA dystopian releases are as follows:

  1. XVI by Julia Karr (4+ stars on Goodreads);
  2. [tie] Angelfall by Susan Ee (4+ stars on Goodreads; I will preorder the sequel);
  3. The Bridge by Jane Higgins (4 stars on Goodreads; I believe this is a standalone, but I would read a sequel);
  4. Divergent by Veronica Roth (just under 4 stars on Goodreads, it was entertaining enough that I’ll maybe read the sequel);
  5. Delirium by Lauren Oliver (3-ish stars on Goodreads, unlikely I’ll read the sequel);
  6. [tie] Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky (3 stars on Goodreads; I may read the sequel because I’m curious if there are consequences for the assholish behavior of the male lead);
  7. Legend by Marie Lu (2-ish stars on Goodreads; I won’t read the sequel); and

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(Unranked) Wither by Lauren DeStefano (I want the time back that I spent reading two-thirds of Wither—a book with which I had the most problems in a long time, and also caused me to go into a crazed late-night Twitter rant about its absurdist treatment of polygamy and related sexual control of women).

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