Julia Karr is a Bloomington author whose dystopian young adult novel XVI, or Sixteen, came out last year. The sequel to Sixteen, Truth, is being released by Penguin Publishing this week. Artworks’ Rachel Lyon sat down with Julia to discuss the book, and the project of writing for young adults.
The End Of Innocence
Rachel Lyon: So tell me about your new novel, Truth.
Julia Karr: Truth is a continuation of Nina’s story, my main character. She has found out a lot of truths about what’s going on around her, and she’s determined to get that information out to the public so other people will see it. And she’s not sure just how to go about that.
RL: Because she is sixteen.
JK: She is. She’s only sixteen–well, ‘only.’ In her world, sixteen is basically the end of innocence for girls.
RL: In this dystopian world, the government has made it so sixteen-year-old girls have to get a tattoo on their wrist telling people how old they are.
JK: Right, so they know which girls are basically allowed to be sexually active and which girls aren’t. In this world, girls are adults at sixteen, and all their lives, through the media, they are primed to expect this and to look forward to it and to look forward to being sexual, and everything is geared toward making them feel that that is the most important thing in their life.
RL: There are some real world echoes in here.
JK: You know, I think that’s really what was in the back of my mind, is the sexualization of girls. It just seems to happen younger and younger. I think one of the tipping points for me was high-heeled booties for baby girls. There is no good reason for that. It’s not cute. There’s only one message, and it is that little girls are sexual beings. I just took it to its logical conclusion, if it were to get out of hand.
Responses Through The Ages
RL: You’re writing for a YA audience, a young adult audience.
RL: How much is this message going to come across as something that’s negative?
JK: Well, it’s interesting, because I’ve talked with teens, and what I’m hearing from teens is, “That’s exactly how I feel. I’m not ready to have sex. I’m not ready to make the decision. I don’t want somebody to make it for me.” I think that they’re getting it. They’re understanding what I was saying: that girls should have the ability and the education and the information to make logical choices themselves about what they want to do with their bodies. It’s interesting, the people who seem to have more of a problem with it are older.
RL: So in a way you think the responses you’re getting from younger audiences are more sophisticated than the responses you’re gettting from their parents.
JK: Yeah. Kind of the weird thing about writing a book is once it gets out there, it’s no longer your book. People are going to interpret it however they want to.
The Hardest Audience
RL: To what extent is it a political choice of yours to write for a young audience, and to what extent is it aesthetic, or…
JK: Well, I don’t want to say it was a choice. I got this picture in my head one day of this girl–she was kind of a punk rock-looking girl. She didn’t like the society she was in, it was very loud and she wanted some peace. And this girl in my head wouldn’t leave me alone. And she was almost sixteen. Sometimes I think that I have, like, a sixteen-year-old child inside me that really wants to tell her stories.
RL: Are there any misconceptions that you’d like to put to rest about either YA writing or dystopian fiction, sci-fi, just generally what you do?
JK: Well, I think writing for young adults, they are a hard audience. They can see through lies, they can see through if you’re trying to preach to them, they can see through. They aren’t dumb. They are probably more discerning and less willing to read garbage than adults are. I think they’re one of the more important groups to write for. And they’re really cool. I don’t know how else to say that. The groups I’ve talked to and interacted with, I love them. They’re great.
Book Launch Party
A party in honor of the launch of Julia Karr's book "Truth" at Boxcar Books.
Friday, January 20