The International Writers Magazine: YA Fiction review
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
ISBN: 13: 978-1-4169-1104-3
Simon & Schuster
I came late to the Scott Westerfeld party. Uglies is the first in a sci-fi trilogy closely followed by Pretties and Specials. Set in the future in a post-oil world (oil having being destroyed by a bacteria weapon that ate it all up) the world now seems to be divided between Uglies and Pretties.
You don’t get to be pretty (surgically enhanced beauty) until you are sixteen and therefore you are ugly when born until your sixteenth birthday. Naturally you really want to be pretty and live in New Pretty City, party 24/7 and have not a care in the world. Not even work…
Tally Youngblood, like all others is born ugly. Flattened nose, frizzy hair ugly actually. Her best friend Peris has already been transformed and although he promised faithfully to keep in contact she only heard from him once and she has to wait in the ugly dorm three more months before she can be pretty herself. Tally sneaks into New Pretty City and finds the newely beautiful Peris – only to see the disgust on his face as she is revealed to him in all her ugliness. She has to escape off the roof and bungee jump down and flee security.
She ends up at the river where she meets Shay. Shay is like her, lonely, her friends gone, they even share the same birthday. But Shay is braver, sharper and has plans. She instructs Tally in the ways of the hoverboard (a magnetic board) and together they go up river to the white water rapids and the ruins of the old city. Shay reveals she is looking for David, an ugly who rejected the pretty way of life and has stories about an alternate way of living. Tally is bonding with Shay, excited by all the things they do together, not understanding until the day before she is due to become pretty, that Shay doesn’t want to be pretty, hates the idea of going under the knife. She wants to go with David to the Smoke, a city far away where escapees of the pretty regime live at one with nature. She wants Tally to join her.
Tally can’t bring herself to do it. She has been waiting to be pretty all her life and wants to join Peris. She’s tempted, has become attached to Shay, but in the end Shay leaves alone.
This is the story of betrayal. Shay leaves Tally a coded word map of how to get to the smoke if she changes her mind. She is sworn to secrecy never to reveal where she went.
Special Circumstances is the police force of Pretty City. On the day Tally is supposed to go under the knife, she is forced by the evil Dr Cable to betray Shay and go after her, or else she will never be pretty – ever.
Tally is given a special hoverboard, some instant packets of food (Spagbog) and sent on her way. She is to find the rebel Smoke City and as soon as she does, signal Dr Cable with an iris recognition bracelet. They will come within hours.
This is a novel concept and a movie is in development (of course). Utopia granted by surgery. Everyone happy and anyone ‘normal’ is seen as ugly. It turns political correctness on its head. Of course we can see the moral here. Be careful for what you wish for. You want to be pretty you will end up a vapid brainless consumer. If you chose ugly, then you’ll have to live off the land, kill things, age and have no hot showers.
Tally is a great heroine, brave, a tad naïve, loyal and a fast learner, any girl would want to be her. Shay is a tomboy, self-assured romantic who thinks she has escaped the pretty world for good.
For anyone who thinks looks are everything this is an essential read. We do have a choice. Shallow or deep.But why are we all so attracted to shallow?
© Sam Hawksmoor July 2012
Author of The Repossession and The Hunting