Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is a book set in a dystopian future where everyone undergoes an operation to become pretty on their sixteenth birthday. Not beautiful, mind, just pretty. Everyone is equally pretty and tall and even skin coloration is changed so that everyone is more or less the same. This sameness has been carefully researched and deemed what is best for society. The “pretty” operation is one of several mechanisms in place to prevent society from falling apart as it did hundreds of years ago as the ruins of ancient “Rusty” cities are preserved as silent testament. The Rusties of course, are (were?) us.
Uglies is a simple and yet convoluted novel. Ostensibly young adult, I still found it utterly engaging. In fact, I didn’t want to put it down. Tally Youngblood, our heroine, has spent her whole life pining to be pretty. Westerfeld perfectly captures the intensity and “now”-ness of being fifteen going on sixteen. When Tally’s new best friend declares that she doesn’t want to be pretty and would rather live in the wilderness than undergo the operation both Tally and the reader are challenged to reevaluate what is important in life.
Westerfeld includes enough futuristic gadgets, action, romance and adventure to soften the moral lesson. There are even nifty science lessons on magnetics, gravity and biology that help present a very well thought out near future. Still, as much of a pleasureable thrill ride that Uglies provides, this is a book that makes you think. I would very much like to do this novel with a reading group and mine the many disparate elements that are prime discussion fodder.
Uglies is only the first book in a trilogy. Pretties and Specials tell the whole of Tally’s story. The later books begin to rely on a lot of made up language and the interplay between some of the characters loses it’s natural feel. I’m glad I read all three, but I enjoyed them in descending order: Uglies was phenomenal. Pretties was very good. Specials didn’t do it for me at all. There’s even a fourth novel set in the Uglies universe, with a new protaganist, but I’m almost afraid to read it. Just kidding. The latest book, called Extras is out in hardback meaning I must wait for the paperback release or try and get it from the library.