Reading level: Young Adult
Publisher: Simon Pulse (February 8, 2005)
genre: dystopia, sci-fi, adventure
Welcome to a dystopic vision of the future, a world where everyone gets a very advanced operation that makes them pretty when they turn sixteen. In fact more than pretty – far beyond a stunning supermodel . They get new, extra-white ceramic teeth, wider eyes, different irises, healthier, perfectly smooth skin, fuller lips, even a new set of bones if there’s such a need. All free of charge and according to the formula of aesthetic attraction written in our genes by biology – all the things we instinctively look for in a potential perfect partner. The new pretties leave dorms at Uglyville and move to New Pretty Town to get new nice apartments, meet other pretties, attend parties and have fun. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Surprisingly not everybody wants to have the operation. Sometimes different Uglies run away, usually into the ruins of the Rusties–the civilization that existed before, the one that chopped trees and burned oil and laid down steel and concrete, and tinkered with the natural resources in an abominable way until finally people outsmarted themselves and became the civilization that exists now, divided not into the rich and the poor, the smart and the stupid but just into uglies and pretties.
Tally Youngblood, the main heroine, will soon turn sixteen, the age she’s been waiting for her entire life. She is impatient because her best friend, a boy called Peris, has already been turned into a Pretty and he hasn’t sent her a ping or a line ever since. One day Tally sneaks to see him but it doesn’t go well and she must escape jumping from the roof. Returning to her dorm she meets a girl called Shay who is one of those Uglies who don’t want to have an operation. Shay sneaks Tally out at night and shows her the ruins of an old amusement park, and tells her of a friend called David she has met out there that takes runaway Uglies to a hidden place known only as “The Smoke.” Shay decides to run away, she visits Tally one more time to convince her to come with her. Tally refuses, but Shay leaves a cryptic rhyming note in case she ever changes her mind.
When she’s picked up and taken to her operation, though, there’s a sudden problem. Because of that Tally learns the world is more than Uglies and Pretties. A third set, a population of beauty that is beautiful but also advanced, intelligent and cruel is called the Specials. They police the entire place through a barely-believed organization known as Special Circumstances. They’ve been monitoring the runaways for some time now and have decided they want “The Smoke” to disappear and all its denizens returned. One of the Specials, Dr Cable, blackmails Tally into betraying Shay and sends her on a mission to find The Smoke. Until Tally makes the journey and activates a special tracking device to alert Special Circumstances, she will never be made pretty. All other twists in the plot force Tally to continually lie to her friends making of her not only an unwilling secret agent but also a traitor. What will be her decision at the end? Will she still be willing to become a Pretty? Do the doctors change just your appearance or maybe it’s more serious?
To be honest I must say I simply loved the idea behind this book – finally somebody dared to show young (and not so young) people that great looks might become a blight and a problem. With the rising popularity of cosmetic surgery among teens who want to undergo the knife to fix physical problems at increasingly early age such a story is simply too precious to be missed.
What’s more the world building in this novel is great and the plot – as fast-paced as I like. I devoured this book in two days (I had to take breaks) and I was never bored. Part The Matrix, part Brave New World and part The Wave, Uglies is the first installment of a very intelligent trilogy. It does more than deliver pulse-pounding adventure, it also forces introspection into the way we perceive ourselves and others in the modern world.
The main heroine, Tally Youngblood, is a nicely conflicted character which develops quickly from a gawky, naïve teenager into an almost adult. I felt drawn to her and could relate to from the start after she decided that the perfect sky over her perfect city was the colour of cat vomit, providing that the cat was fed salmon – a great way to show that deep inside she was a perceptive, intelligent girl, even though for others she was just a little Ugly.
The cover is catchy. Perhaps not very original but catchy nevertheless.
In general Westerfeld’s writing is so accessible that sometimes I couldn’t help wondering if he intentionally lingered on certain things just to cater to a younger audience. Secondary characters were rather flat (e.g. David’s immediate infatuation with Tally grated a bit) but I hope it will change in next parts of the series. Also the names of some of the places presented in the book could have been a tad fancier: “Uglyville” and “New Pretty Town” are a bit too obvious, aren’t they?
A very fresh story, simultaneously funny and frightening, which includes some serious questions about our world and its crazy ways – in short a great read!