#20 – 23: The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld

It’s time for a YA series! 

It’s also time for a massive review to cover all four books and my response.  I read these months ago and am going to lump this all together.  There will be spoilers, although if you read the back of the books you’ll know who makes it from book to book to book.

The Uglies

All Tally Youngblood wants is to turn sixteen so she can become Pretty. 

The world as we know it is gone.  We’ve fought and blown ourselves up and wrecked the environment and Tally’s world is making up for our mistakes. 

They figured out quickly that one of the best ways to avoid problems to make everyone equal, and the best way to do that is to make sure everyone is Pretty.

It’s simple, really.  You turn sixteen and are made Pretty.  When Uglies see you, they are stunned and overwhelmed with desire to protect you, to make you laugh, to make you like them.  Not that Uglies get to see them that often.  After all, you wouldn’t want to upset a Pretty by forcing them to look at a natural, hideous face.

The science of Tally’s world is incredibly advanced.  You’re taken into a room where your entire body is changed to make you as beautiful as all the other Pretties.  If you’re too tall, your bones are ground down to the accepted Pretty height.  Scars are erased.  Well, your entire skin is erased, really.  It’s sanded down so that new, better skin can be applied.  Your eyes become bigger, your nose perfect, your lips full and soft.  Your teeth are replaced, your hair is new, your fingernails are flawless.  Everything about you is crafted so that no one will feel inadequate and therefore no one will have to fight to earn equality.  You’re even given a better immune system to help you from getting sick and to heal quickly if you’re hurt while doing fun, Pretty things.  Life is perfect.  And if a flaw is discovered later, hurry back to surgery to get fixed up.

Tally’s best friend has already turned sixteen and left her to live the Pretty life and she is bored, depressed, and nervous while waiting to join him.  What if he’s forgotten her?  What if she won’t be Pretty enough?  What if she’s still not perfect even after the surgery?

While waiting for her birthday, Tally meets Shay who is also about to turn sixteen.  Shay is wild and dangerous and she and Tally become fast friends.  Shay’s a little different from anyone else Tally has known.  She seems a bit quiet and distant at times, and she doesn’t seem too interested in becoming Pretty.  Tally shrugs it off, knowing as soon as it happens, she and Shay will be Pretty together and that will mean they are happy.

And then Shay disappears.  And then Tally, still Ugly, finds out what happens when you cross The People In Charge.  Is being Pretty the best thing to be?  Is there more?  Is it worth telling lies if you think everything will work out in the end?

Some of our main characters and places in the Uglies Series:

Tally – our conflicted protagonist.

Shay – our super angry, rebellious girl who is always looking for more and doesn’t deal well when things go wrong.

The Smoke – a whispered about area where people are living outside of Pretty control.  This is a secret world where people have fled after deciding not to become Pretty.  They have little access to the comforts of society and the government of Pretty Town is looking to bring them under control and get everyone into surgery to keep fights from happening.  Some members have lived there their entire lives, while others have joined them after escaping their cities. 

David – son of the founders of The Smoke.  He’s lived his entire life outside of the cities and is disgusted by the vapid, materialist life of the Pretties.

Maddy – David’s mom and one of the founders of The Smoke.  She knows a lot about the surgery to make people Pretty and has a special interest in Pretty brains.

Special Circumstances – a government agency in Pretty Town that is dangerous and secret.  People talk about it as a threat, but also think it might not be real.  It appears to be there to protect the Pretties and make sure things stay equal to avoid war and fighting, and it seems happy to use its power in any way to make sure things stay the way they are.

Dr. Cable – head of the Specials. She is terrifying and is able to decide Tally’s fate throughout the books.  She has a lot of power, both in Pretty Town and out.

Spoilers are coming, so if you’re interested in reading the whole pretty dystopia on your own, stop right here.

The Pretties

Things end badly at the end of The Uglies.  Tally’s mind opens when she meets David, she’s trying to figure out how to fix things with Shay, and she managed to destroy The Smoke by trying not to decide anything at all.

She’s also Pretty now.

The life she imagined for herself just a few months ago is now reality.  She and Shay are going to the best parties, enjoying the best of what Pretty Town has to offer, and enjoying their fame as criminals (Crims) for their reputation as runaways and Smoke Dwellers.

Life is perfect.

Except that Tally keeps having un-Pretty thoughts and memories and starts remembering things that don’t make sense.  Why should she still be thinking of David and The Smoke and being Ugly?  She has an amazing Pretty boyfriend named Zane and all she should be worrying about is what to wear at the next party and what new cosmetic surgery to get.

Zane starts asking questions about not being Pretty and Tally, Shay and the rest of their clique start looking for ways to have moments of clarity.  Zane and Tally especially start to realize that their minds don’t seem to work the way that they should.  Shay, once again, is left out of these discoveries and turns to a more violent method to find the clarity she craves.

Members of the New Smoke are hunting for Tally and she doesn’t know why.  Everything is confusing, and seeing David is horrifying.  She knew he was Ugly, but now that she’s Pretty, seeing him again is sickening.  She also feels confused and guilty because she’s in love with Zane but she knows she once had feelings for David.

Tally continues to bring destruction and chaos through indecision and non-action.  Her decisions again push Shay away, and when Tally is caught by Special Circumstances, it’s Shay that brings her in.  Shay is no longer just Pretty; she’s Special.  She’s a Cutter.

The Specials

Yet another surgery and a new version of Tally Youngblood.

Dr. Cable has worked with Shay to create an elite offshoot of Special Circumstances.  The Cutters have been given the best body modifications possible.  Tally has been redesigned to be a lethal hunter, and has technology to back up her flawless body.

Shay keeps Tally close as they hunt down Uglies who are working with the New Smoke to smuggle in the Pretty cure.  Dr. Cable has given the Cutters immense power to keep the city secure and make sure the Pretties are safe.

They need to find the New Smoke, and they need to destroy it.

Tally continues to exist with a muddled brain.  No matter what version she is, she is never able to fully commit.  As an Ugly, all she wanted was to be Pretty.  Then she met David, but she still wanted to be Pretty, but to take him with her.  When she became Pretty she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was supposed to be doing something else.  Now that she’s Special, she’s not sure if she can trust Shay, or even trust herself.

Things really fall apart when she finds Zane and sees how damaged he is.  He’s still Pretty, but his body is damaged and she is repulsed.  Perhaps another Special or Pretty would have ended it there and walked away without another thought, but Tally doesn’t want to lose her feelings for him.  She’s angry at herself for not being able to accept him, but everything in her Special mind and body is disgusted by his weakness.  It’s worse because he’s not some Ugly – he was Pretty and perfect and now he’s disgusting.  Like she wanted to do with Shay and David before, she figures she can fix everything by making Zane perfect again and things will go back to the way they should be.

Things move quickly in this one.  The Cutters find the New Smoke, a war starts that might become a World War if Dr. Cable has her way, Shay finds a new clarity and again turns on Tally, and Tally realizes she, once again, has started a chain of events that is ending in destruction.

The Extras

This was a nice addition.  I think Westerfield could have ended it after The Specials, although he did leave himself room to keep going.

We are now living in a new world with new characters.  The time of the Pretties has ended, and now it’s all about Science.

It’s been three years since Tally has ended the Pretty world, and she and David have gone into hiding.  They’ve left a strong message that if things start to go wrong anywhere in the world, they will be there to stop it.

Our new protagonist is fifteen year old Aya Fuse.  In her town, you gain status and money through fame.  The more people talking about you, the more power you have.  Everyone runs their own live stream video blog and works hard to get followers so they can move up on the reputation list.  Money comes from fame, and everyone wants to be number one.

Aya is desperate to earn in the reputation economy.  She becomes a “kicker” – amateur  journalists who earn fame by kicking new stories that capture everyone’s interest.  It’s a viral video economy where reputation comes and goes as quickly as new videos can be posted.  The top story this morning can be forgotten by noon and the reputation list is constantly changing, except for those way at the top.

Aya thinks she’s stumbled on the next amazing story, and when she kicks it, she knows she’ll be rushed up the face rank ladder.

She spies on a group known as the Sly Girls.  They meet in secret and seem to operate outside of rank, which Aya can’t understand.  If any of them were to broadcast their adventures, they would move up in rank, but they are determined to remain secret and are furious and distrustful when they catch Aya filming them.

Aya gets to know the members, and like Tally with the Smokies, finds herself becoming friends with them, but lies and says she won’t kick their story.  She’s torn between wanting to keep their secret and wanting to earn face rank.  She’s sick of being faceless and she knows she’s destined for more.

And then things get weird.

While out one night, Aya and the Sly Girls see strange, alien like creatures open some sort of door into the side of a mountain and start removing large cylinders.  They return later to find the room and stumble onto something huge and dangerous.

The Sly Girls disappear, giving Aya permission to kick their story, but she waits a little while to try to figure out the entire puzzle.  With help from her older brother Hiro and his friend Ren, they study the cylinders and being to piece everything together.  Horrified, they realize the alien creatures are building some sort of bomb that can be launched and will level cities easily.

Aya kicks the story, and just as she dreamed, her face rank streaks into fame.  She can suddenly afford the best place to live, which turns out to be good, because someone is coming to kill her.

Some old friends show up and Aya, Hiro, Ren and Aya’s new boyfriend Frizz are whisked away to safety.  Sort of.  Things get worse and no one knows what the truth is. 

Aya is frantic since kicking the story because she doesn’t know if she’s saved the world from war or is about to cause one.

Who are these aliens and what are they building?  And will she live long enough to enjoy her new face rank?

And now… my response.

First off, I love the world and language that Westerfield created for this book. The slang and Pretty Speak is a lot of fun.  The technology is also fantastic.  Everything has been created to make the Pretties and to keep them happy.  The advancements in science based around cosmetic surgery and entertainment are fascinating, especially when it’s used in conjunction with extremely powerful weaponry.

I liked the idea of using beauty as equality in dystopia.  No one has to worry about anything once they become Pretty, except for having fun.  There’s an idea that someone is in charge, but it’s vague.  The world has been created for young, beautiful people to do young, beautiful things.  There are mentions of what happens as people age and have surgery done again to ease them into an older pretty life, but none of that matters because now you’re young and Pretty and life is wonderful.

I liked the excess and wealth and vapid society of Pretty Town.  Everyone is happy and it is utopia, as long as you don’t think.  Most people would probably take the surgery and give up thought process, and I can see this appealing to a YA audience.  How much would you give up to be Pretty?

A minor problem I had with this is that the writing felt a bit fluffy at times.  I thought the plot and themes were solid and sophisticated, but the writing was sometimes too easy.  At the same time, this probably makes it more accessible for some readers.  I can take some simple sentence structure if it gets more people to read.

I was also not thrilled with the inaction that Tally and Aya often had.  Several times they couldn’t commit to a choice, so they let things keep happening to them until everything blew up, and then they felt guilty.  They tried not to hurt anyone’s feeling in the first place by not doing anything, but then everyone got mad in the end.  This felt like a total teenage girl stereotype to me and made me nuts.  I wanted them to make a decision and stick to it.  They had moments where they did, but they also felt guilty about it because even they could see it might be a shallow choice.  However, this was a big part of their personalities, so it sort of fit but I wished Tally would have grown out of it by the time her story arc ended.

This is a good series.  It’s not on the top of my Must Read YA list, but I can see the appeal for a lot of readers and the topics are interesting and thought provoking.


One response to “#20 – 23: The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld

  1. Pingback: pyrajane’s #20 – 23: The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld « Cannonball Read IV

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