I finally got to one before her, though, and I'm so glad I did! I can't say enough good things about XVI by Julia Karr.
Here's the description from Goodreads:
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.
Now, I don't know about you, but this book had me at, "Governing Council-ordered tattoo". The world Nina lives in is a lot like our world, but amplified. Set in Chicago, some 200+ years in the future, it's a completely believable universe that Karr has created. The technology she uses is familiar but just foreign enough to be futuristic. People are ordered by social status into "tiers" and lower tier girls, like Nina, have little hope of escape from poverty. Either they are smart enough to get scholarships or they find a way to make an upper-tier guy notice them. Nina is not interested in rising using her sexuality, and it's not until after her mother's death that she truly begins to realize the ways that the government and the media have controlled every aspect of her life.
The conflict of the story is not just over the murder, but also over Nina's growing social unrest. What can she, a teenager, truly do about her lot in life? As the reader we can understand her desire to cling to what she's known, and it makes her growing yearning for change all the more realistic. Add to this her confusion over her budding romantic feelings, and you have all the makings for an excellent novel.
XVI is dystopian fiction at its best. It is frightening, realistic, and yet underscored with a feeling of hope. I can't wait to see what Julia Karr has for us next.