Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is a YA dystopian set a few hundred years in the future after the collapse of the “Rusties” (ie. us). In this new world people are separated from their families when they turn 12 and become “Uglies”. They are educated until they turn 16 at which point they go for mandatory plastic surgery to make them “Pretties”. The justification for this is that in the past people were bullied, murdered, etc. for how they looked, their skin color, etc. and this future society aims to make everyone adhere to the exact same standard of beauty so nothing like that will happen again. Our protagonist,Tally Youngblood, starts us off a few months before she turns 16. Her best friend, Peris, has already become Pretty and is living in New Pretty Town, away from Uglyville. Honestly, the thing that irked me the most in this book was the names of things, because really, they’re bad. Uglyville for the Uglies, New Pretty Town for the New Pretties and then Crumblyville for the Middle and Late Pretties. I almost got desensitized to the words ugly, pretty, biology, etc. because they are used so excessively in the early parts of the book.
In this future world everyone is basically trained to hate how they look so that they will happily submit to the surgeries. These modifications go so far as to alter height, scraping bones for more “pleasing” shapes, etc.
SPOILER ALERT for anyone who wants to read these books.
What is not revealed is that the surgery also modifies their brains as well, making them more pliable and easy-going so that they are easier to control. The only people who don’t have these modifications made permanent are those who work in high stress jobs – fire fighting, police, government, medical, etc. but majority of the population is turned into party loving sheep.
The catalyst for all of what happens in book 1 is Shay, a girl Tally meets after they are both left alone in Uglyville after their friends turn 16 before them. Shay has been escaping the city for fun and met up with people who have previously run away and joined a society called the Smoke. In the Smoke no one undergoes the surgery. Shay runs away to join the Smoke after failing to convince Tally to go with her. Tally has no intention of leaving and wants only to undergo the surgery and rejoin Peris in New Pretty Town. This doesn’t end up going as planned as she is intercepted by Special Circumstance, (essentially the secret police) and is blackmailed into tracking down the Smoke so that SC can capture, imprison, re-educate, etc. the people there.
In the Smoke we meet David, the child of runaways who has never known life in the cities. Tally has every intention of betraying the Smoke to Special Circumstances so that she can go through with her pretty-ing surgery, but quickly finds out that she would be destroying the lives of all the people who’ve chosen not to live the city life. One of the complaints I’ve read in reviews is that this is a case of the man swooping in to fix the heroine’s life, but really all David does is be kind to her and try to convince her that she’s not actually hideous, which has been parroted to her for years. David introduces her to his parents, who began the Smoke after discovering the brain altering part of the surgeries. They’re the ones who explain everything to Tally and are the reason she decides she can’t betray them. David only brings her to them because she tells him she’s not sure that she wants to stay in the Smoke and he wants her to be able to make an informed decision about what it means to go back to the city and get the surgery.
Tally was given a tracker by SC and when she attempts to destroy it, she accidentally activates it and the Smoke is invaded. The resulting chaos leaves only Tally and David uncaptured, hiding in the wilderness where they plan a rescue attempt into the city to save the Smokies.
Overall Uglies as an enjoyable read. The story itself was pretty interesting, enough to make me pick up the next book, but it’s not all that amazing.
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