“Uglies” by Scott Westerfeld

This is another case of “I saw it while working at the book store and never thought of it again”. It was in the back of my mind, and I kept saying if I saw it somewhere used I’d pick it up (I usually try new authors in used), but it wasn’t until recently that I had the opportunity to pick it up. Books usually sit on my shelves for ages before I pick them up, but with our current situation, this was on top of the box so it’s what I picked!

The books is set in a futuristic world broken down into two sides: The Uglies, and The Pretties. The basis for this was the old world, inhabited with what everyone has dubbed the “rusties”, was over-run by wars and famine because everyone was different. Wars were based on colour versus colour, culture versus culture, and religion versus religion (to name a few) – so the world banded together and erased everything to fight about. At the age of 16 everyone is taken for their pretty surgery, where they are made to look exactly like everyone else and pretty. Children are taught this is a symptom of evolution: people are more attracted to big pretty eyes because of their innocence, pretty faces and nice bodies are more likely to be chosen as mates to continue on the species, etc. Uglies are taught that it’s an “ugly” thing to have hormones, to feel anger and jealousy, these are all ugly and traits you won’t have to deal with once you’re pretty. Cities have also pulled back from nature, let it reclaim the rusty cities, and are completely self sufficient.

The story follows an Ugly named Tally, on the eve of her 16th birthday and finally becoming pretty. Her lifelong best friend was already pretty and she promised him that no matter what she did, on her birthday she would be there to get her surgery! Enter a strange and energetic girl named Shay. She teaches Tally about hover boarding, pulling tricks, and a secret society of Uglies known as the “Smoke”. They are Uglies who didn’t want the surgery, so they snuck out into the woods to survive. Tally doesn’t believe in the smoke, until she is brought in for her surgery and told she can have it only if she finds Shay and the Smoke.

Before I get into too much, I will say, I did enjoy the book, it was an interesting look at our own society, and how everything we see and feel today, can be horribly changed by future generations. Would you consider Beyonce ugly? Or Scarlet Johansson? Would you consider trains and cars horribly frightening and wastes of material? Tally came across a magazine and was horrified by the ugly faces displayed proudly on it. In our own standards, people on magazines are considered the prettiest of the pretties. It was an interesting look at society and how drastically it changes to fix a problem.

Now, onto the issues I had with this book. The plot. Special Circumstances (Ugly equivalent of the boogie-man) sends Tally out as a spy, with an eye-print triggered beacon she is to set off once she’s there. But once she’s there she meets the King-of-Bland David, and changes her mind about being a Pretty. David introduces her to his parents who used to be Pretties who did the surgeries on Uglies, until they found out the government was doing something to a Pretties brain. They didn’t know the extent or the reason, they were basically plastic surgeons, not brain doctors, so they had no way of testing. But they found a small amount of Pretties DID NOT have the damage, and as you can imagine – Specials, Government, Police, Doctors, everyone on the Governments payroll. So David’s parents ran, and founded the Smoke. Tally keeps quiet about being a spy, and lo and behold, it blows up in her face. I’m tired of the spy-turned-good-but-everything-goes-south-anyway trope. It’s boring, its been done, and we know how it’s going to end. Almost from the beginning you can map out exactly what is going to happen in the book and when. That took away from the interesting side of the book. It was relatively well written and a very interesting subject.

As you can probably tell, the characters fell a little flat to me. Tally (as per MOST YA heroines) is written very flat and bland, but that’s either for the self-insert aspect of female driven YA, or to illustrate how this society doesn’t allow for growth of character. I don’t mean to get all high-school English on this, but if you look at it that way, it has a deeper feeling, on top of turning everyone into Pretties (cookie-cutter models) they don’t allow for expression of self, which is where people develop their own personalities. Children are raised by their Pretty parents (are known as Littlies until puberty) and then put into Dormitories, where they are threatened with a refusal to be made pretty if they act out too much. It’s very reflective of today’s society but instead of looks it’s usually with the ability to make ends meet. Looking at it this way makes the bland characters a little more understandable.

I do believe there are 5 books in the series, and I do believe I will be reading them all, to see how this evolves and to find out if anyone gains a personality.

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