Uglies tells the story of Tally Youngblood, a 15-year-old girl living in a future dystopian society where all she can do is wait for her 16th birthday when she will finally be able to have the operation that makes her (and everyone else) pretty. And by pretty I mean perfect. We aren’t talking about a nose job here, but a major reconstruction via future technologies of every thing that would make a person unique (and therefore ugly). No one is fat, short, tall, thin or even has bad hair. But while she’s waiting for her transformation, Tally meets Shay and first hears about people who have run away from their perfect little city and from the one thing she has waited for her whole life; the surgery. They have actually chosen to stay ugly – forever. When Shay runs away as well, Tally goes in search of her new friend, but finds so much more than she bargained for.
“Or maybe when they do the operation-when they grind and stretch your bones to the right shape, peel off your face and rub all your skin away, and stick in plastic cheekbones so you look like everyone else-maybe after going through all that you just aren’t very interesting anymore.”
— Scott Westerfeld (Uglies)
This was a fun easy read and I found myself enjoying it immensely, while also finding some great themes, especially for younger readers. I also just loved the world Westerfeld created. We’re talking hoverboards and walls that have the technology to give you anything you ask for. And I have to admit, even though I know others found it distracting, I got a bit hooked on the slang his pretty-brained teens used. I still find a word or two of it slipping from my mouth on occasion only to realize that the person I’m talking to, just doesn’t get the reference. At which point, I usually wish I had a copy of the book in my back pocket to throw at (er..give to) them with instructions to read it, and then come talk to me.
Another thing I really admired about Westerfeld’s work was that the characters were sympathetic and intelligent, even though they were a product of a world which really didn’t seem to care about fostering either. They enjoyed clothes and dreaming about looking beautiful, yes. But, unlike too many YA novels I’ve read of late, that was not who they were. It was certainly not the defining soul of any of the characters. Least of all Tally. She has a pretty huge character arc in the first book. With plenty of action. There’s just so much to love, especially for young adults: the newness of the world that could easily be born of ours, the fun technology, the adventure, the language, and then the realization that there is something terribly wrong with their pretty little world, and very few capable of fixing it. This was absolutely enjoyable! I would note that while the first book alone is good, it’s definitely a series read. He leaves us with a pretty tall cliffhanger at the end of the book and you won’t want to wait to start the second one.
Published: Simon Pulse (February 8, 2005)
Review Copy: Purchased
Westerfeld manages to do a complete one-eighty with Pretties and throw our characters into such a different world than they had just come from in Uglies. Tally has finally gotten the one thing she always wanted; To be pretty. She goes from living in the woods and growing her own food to living in a mansion, drinking champagne all night, sleeping all day and talking like a complete idiot most of the time. I have to admit to some disappointment at first, and more than a bit of anger at the author for demeaning the characters that way. It felt like such a huge step backwards for our hero, but after my brain got used to this “new” Tally and Shay, I couldn’t help but enjoy them in this form as well. And pick up even more bubbly slang! I wanted to take a long vacation to this world of decadent food (complete with calorie purging tablets), hot-air balloon rides, floating ice rinks, and endless Hollywood-style parties. And it’s apparent why Westerfeld went this route. Not only does it let us see inside the Pretties world, it shows us how the surgery completely transforms Tally’s brain as well as her body. Well perhaps not completely, but you’ll have to read to find out. I would say of the first two books in the series, this one is a touch more adult than the first. There is a lot of teen drinking, implied sexuality and just general recklessness. And he makes all this irresponsibility look so fun and carefree. At least at first. But we do get to glimpse a bit of the grittier side of the Pretty lifestyle as well. Later on there are instances of self-harm, which might be a bit shocking even for older readers. And it’s a difficult topic to try to explain to teens. As much as I love the books, I’d put off recommending them to my nephew at this point based on the more adult scenes in the second book. Everything gets very chaotic towards the end and once again Westerfeld leaves us on the edge of a cliff and sets the third book up for another complete reversal with the characters. Specials and Extras, the final two books in this series sit cued up on my Nook and I’m hoping to get to them very soon. In the mean-time Westerfeld has completely succeeded in jumping onto my radar as well as my list of favorite authors for teens.
Title: Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopia
Published: Simon Pulse (November 1st, 2005)
Review Copy: Purchased
On a related note…
I have to say that I fell in love with the covers for these books. So much so, that even in the middle of reading them, I would find myself lost in the covers which include a singular haunting image wrapped from back to front. The boxy 6.9 x 5.1 dimensions, were also fresh and made the books jump off the shelf. The design by Rodrigo Corral is absolutely stunning. Peruse more of his (frequently award-winning) mad cover-art skills at The Book Cover Archive or at rodrigocorral.com. Also if you have some time, do a search for some of the equally lovely foreign cover art for this series. There are also a set of new covers set to come out here in the US for the next printing, but I’m still kinda partial to these.
Here are the pre-cropped images. With the exception of Pretties, which I personally like better cropped, I think they are phenomenal. Love one? Just click on it any image to be magically transported to the Simon & Schuster website and download it as a desktop wallpaper.
Need even more Uglies? Find out all about this great series, and read an interview Scott gave Simon & Schuster on his website.
- Recommended Books for Young Adults (bookshopblog.com)