"Like The Hunger Games, it's set in a warped future with a totalitarian government, only here all the kids are forced to get plastic surgery instead of fighting each other to the death.
It's, er, a lot more exciting than I'm making it sound, though. Honest."
Uglies is a 2005 science fiction novel by Scott Westerfeld. It is set in a future post-scarcity dystopian world in which everyone is turned "Pretty" by extreme cosmetic surgery upon reaching age 16. It tells the story of teenager Tally Youngblood who rebels against society's enforced conformity, after her new found friends Shay and David show her the downsides to becoming a "Pretty". They show Tally how being a "Pretty" can change not only your look but your personality. Written for young adults, Uglies deals with adolescent themes of change, both emotional and physical. The book is the first installment in what was originally a trilogy, the Uglies series, which also includes Pretties, Specials, and Extras.
I heard so much, both good and bad about this book, so I was on the fence about picking it up. So yesterday, I got it from the library. Before bed, I gave it my one-chapter test, where I read the first chapter or so to see what it's all about.
I just ended up sitting there, reading, for forty five minutes until I was about a a third done. The first thing I did the next morning was grab it off my nightstand and read the rest.
Good thing it's summer.
I'll tick off some of you when I say this--Uglies agreed with me. I didn't love love love it(but then I rarely do with new series.) I didn't shove it away from me or fall asleep. Here's what I had to say:
Unlike THG, Uglies isn't edge of your seat suspenseful. It didn't have me biting my nails off. But it was mesmerizing enough to keep people reading past the first chapter...and the second...and the third. So that was definitely a plus. The book is actually quite mild in terms of violence/disturbia for a dystopian or any fantasy novel in general. I thought the plot was decent and twisted in interesting ways. I actually liked the way the book ended
I thought the pacing was pretty good. A lot of people complained about the hover-board scenes being too drawn out or boring. It did seem like a teensy bit much(Get to know your audience, SW. :P Teenage dystopian-reading girls do nawt hoverboard or skateboard or care about hoverboarding or skateboarding) but I didn't feel like it was that disruptive.
I felt really connected to Tally even though it was third-person. I could feel her feelings and see through her eyes. The voice was something very refreshing and new. Unlike The Hunger Games, which somehow has a more rustic, classic voice despite being set in the future, Uglies was very eerie and desolate and new.
The(attempt at) slang seemed over the top at times, but it didn't drive me away. Like Artemis Fowl, it has a environmental message combined with an annoying name for us, "Rusties". And unlike Artemis Fowl, there isn't a good explanation for it either.
Reviewers I read disliked Tally. And it's understandable. She's naive, prejudiced, reluctant, conflicted, and impulsive. Her only real strength is her knowledge of Ugly "tricks", or ways to skirt around the government's rules. In other words, she's utterly normal in every way. Readers can't look up to her or admire her. They can only experience the story through her wide eyes. And that's the way the story works.
Readers may find disgust in the way Tally has been brainwashed by her culture, and her inability to accept anything else. However, she does gradually change throughout the novel, the change feeling both gradual and natural.
One thing I really liked about Tally and SW's characterization was that Tally plays a role in the events of the novel. SW is careful to have Tally instrument her own fate, deciding and making changes in the story instead of just experiencing it.
The secondary characters were good and brought out Tally very nicely. Shay was a fantastic character in the same way that Tally was, very real and emotional and conflicted.
You would think that the most obvious theme is one of self esteem and society's obsession with appearance. And in a way, the novel does deal with that. Tally's culture brainwashes everybody into thinking that without the surgery, they are completely and wholly ugly, inside and out. And they eat it up, even joking about it.
The idea that anyone could be beautiful "just the way they are" is ridiculous. Tally also speaks true on human reaction to beauty. People do unconsciously think better of attractive people.
At school, they explained how it affected you. It didn't matter if you knew about evolution or not. It worked anyway. On anyone.
There was a certain kind of beauty, a prettiness that everyone could see. Big eyes and full lips like a kid's; smooth, clear skin; symmetrical features, and a thousand other little clues. Somewhere in the backs of their minds, people were always looking for these markers. No one could help seeing them, no matter how they were brought up. A million years of evolution had made it part of the human brain.
And I was like: THIS IS HOW I FEEL WHEN I WATCH ANIME OMW.
Uglies had the potential to talk to America and the world about the problems with self esteem and being obsessed with beauty. And in that, it is effective to a point. I did think about how insecure and ugly I felt sometime and felt convicted about how wrong it was. How unfair and wrong it would be to expect everyone to look like the people I saw in TV or art or magazines.
Unfortunately, that's not what Uglies is about. Not really.
The disturbing part about Uglies is that it never says or explains that the surgery is wrong or unnatural. Because (in the story) there is no God who uniquely created us in His perfect image, there isn't really a reason why the surgery should be wrong.
In fact, Shay claims that the only thing wrong with the surgery is conformity. She doesn't want to be "just another Pretty" and doesn't like the way it dumbs you down and changes your personality, which implies that if the Pretty operation weren't so common and it didn't change the way you thought, it might be okay.
Uglies is more about growing up. Tally, who's grown up in the Ugly dorms all her life, learns to reject society's brainwashing and think for herself. There's pain involved too. Tally is attached to her childhood friend, Peris, who has recently had the operation and moved to New Pretty Town. She needs to make the decision to stay anchored to her past and try to keep things the way they were, or move on and leave Peris behind forever.
Evolution is mentioned several times in the story as a basic fact. Eh.
The book is very family friendly. No cussing, little violence, no lust/immoral stuff.
For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Eph. 2:10)
God planned us and made us with infinite care and effort a long time ago. He created you to be exactly who you are. If you think you're not good enough, if you think you're ugly--you're calling God out. You're telling God he made a mistake. He spent exhausting and meticulous hours designing every part of you. Can you not see how ungrateful it sounds for you to ask: "Why have you made me this way? Why I can't be more like one of the other creations?"
God created you to fill a specific hole in society that only you can fill. If you waste all your time and energy trying to be somebody else, that hole will remain unfilled. If you're not you, who's gonna be you? You are one of a kind. There has never been anybody and there will never be anyone like you.
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 B.
People's appearances are deceiving. They wither and fade. There are many many verses and stories about the dangers of selfishly focusing on your own fading, temporary appearance.
To say that Uglies does not get these points across is an understatement. And perhaps that's not what the story was meant for. However, it's good as a starting point, to incite discussion and thought on the matter.
Uglies is a thought provoker, a worthwhile read, and a good story. Definitely read if you have the time, or if you're trying to get into dystopia. I'll be picking up its three sequels soon.