Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publication Date: February 8 2005 by Simon & Schuster
Reminds me of: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley or Divergent series by Veronica Roth
Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?
Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license – for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.
But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all.
The choice Tally makes changes her world forever… Source
I would have been 11 at the time Uglies was published and I can guarantee it was not my cup of tea then. I remember picking it up at the library and thinking ugh… In short, I wasn’t into sci-fi yet. It’s funny though how books we initially frown upon end up being quite notable in our later reading years. On first thought I found the book predictable and clichéd but the books I was comparing it to came years later! I don’t think it’s fair to describe Uglies like that because it most likely was a book that inspired contemporary authors. On the surface, Uglies is a book that glorifies cosmetic surgery and idolises aesthetics but there’s so much more to it…
Uglies is set in a post-apocalyptic world set off by a worldwide oil contamination (props to Westerfeld because that’s a brilliantly unique way to kill us all off). The city folk’s morals are conflicting. We understand killing animals or cutting down trees is an atrocious act so we get the idea they believe in all things natural and worship the environment – something Westerfeld has made clear their predecessors had no respect for at all (they’re called the Rusties and we think they’re pretty nuts for treating the planet as they did).
Then there’s a whole new kind of crazy – their obsession with beauty. It’s nice that kids aren’t pressured to be self conscious about the way they look but once they turn sixteen they undergo intense cosmetic surgery to aesthetically enhance them to perfection – or rather, Pretty. You’re Ugly prior your surgery and Pretty after. It’s pretty self explanatory. Life is easy from then on and your only job then is to love life and party it up every day in New Pretty Town. It’s paradise. But if everyone looked the same would that really make the world a better place? Would conflict appease?
When you begin to understand the society’s way of thinking, and maybe even accept it, Westerfeld throws in a curve ball. Not only does the operation modify you physically, but it taints your thought process and controls how you think and perceive the world. Being in a peaceful oblivion is a guaranteed way to ensure you never worry again. If you were ethically conflicted before, at least you’ll find clarification now. Altering someone’s mind for political purposes is engrained in our minds as being a flat out WRONG. But is a stress free life worth losing your freedom of thought? It’s the ultimate compromise and Westerfeld does a brilliant job at challenging and provoking us as readers.
I really liked Tally as a protagonist. She doesn’t set out to begin a revolution but rather for her own selfish desires – her shot to sell her best friend, Shay, out for her future as a Pretty. She doesn’t set out for love and romance or adventure and wisdom. She’s accustomed to the norm and doesn’t like change. But her mind is capable of expanding and absorbing the harsh reality of life when she could have easily turned a blind eye. Her thirst for the truth is what attracts me to her.
Shay is the definition of original. Maybe she’s following in the footsteps of her friends in the Smoke, but she’s determined to keep her own face. There’s more to life than beauty and it’s really inspiring to see a character so young hold that philosophy close to her heart with the rest of society breathing the exact opposite down her throat.
I’m hoping in the next book we get to learn more about our villainous Dr Cable. I want to hear more from her perspective. I didn’t gel well with David. There was something petty and placid I got from him. I didn’t get a sense of character development but I’m looking forward to reading the next book in hope of Westerfeld redeeming him.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I wanted to give it more stars honestly – but it was dense at times to get through. The ideas are incredible and so well thought out. Westerfeld has simplified a concept that could have been overwhelmingly complex. Less is more in this case. He has contrived this intricate society built up of a mix our fears and dreams. He welds the atrocious with the enticing. For me, however, the chapters with action were limited and a lot of the time Tally was literally wandering around clueless. If he shortened those passages somehow, but sustained the same sense of time I would have enjoyed it a lot more. I understand those chapters were there to create pace. A book filled up with action and plot just doesn’t do it so it’s important to slow down the pace to give us a chance to catch our breath. I think it would have worked better as a shorter book.