My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Uglies is a noteworthy novel set in future America, and it is targeted at young readers, specifically teenage girls. Understanding this, I changed my original 3 star rating to 4/5 stars. Its target is for people who are the characters’ ages, but it has been a satisfying read regardless of its lack of sophisticated writing and vocabulary. It was a little too cut and dry for me, and for some reason Westerfield felt the need to spell all of his character’s consequences out in black white, giving the reader no time to think about them or make their own analysis of what was going on. This may prove to be frustrating for more advanced readers, but I think most young people have something to gain from reading this. In the early chapters there is a little humor, but as the book goes on we encounter some romance, too. With beauty as the topic, romance was something I was expecting, so it didn’t bother me as much as it usually does.
At the ripe age of 15, Tally Youngblood’s world is simple. You are ugly until you become pretty. Scott Westerfield’s dystopian society values beauty above everything else. Everyone is taught at a young age to understand the way biology works and what our human species has found most attractive throughout our lives on this earth. It is a normality to put one’s self and others down with verbal abuse based on looks, and modifying one’s face and body through facial recognition software is no trickier than searching Google. The young uglies (12-16 year-olds) live together apart from their parents until they are old enough to receive the operation, keeping them away from all that teen angst and a lot of important familial emotions.
Westerfield’s world parallels the joy of turning 16 amd attaining the freedom to drive with the accomplishment of having an operation to become perfectly pretty and without physical flaws. His world is high-tech, complete with hoverboards, hovering buildings, and interface rings, which allows voice command to be directed to the technology surrounding his characters (similar to Siri). When we meet Tally, she is an impressionable young trickster a few months away from her surgery. She has been brainwashed by her city and education system, never thinking anything her world hasn’t wanted her to think and anticipating her upcoming operation more than anything else before. She resembles most 16-year-olds in that she is passive to society’s influence on her. She is not stupid, however, she is not a freethinking person either. Until Shay comes along.
Shay’s radical ideas are what invokes her flight from Uglyville into the Smoke, a place outside the city where most people would never dream of venturing. Her leaving causes the local authorities to question Tally about Shay’s disappearance. Tally tries to protect Shay’s choices like she promised, but the authorities threaten her with her long awaited operation. Tally thought she was playing it safe by not following Shay into the Smoke, but Shay’s plans to run away have made more of an impact on Tally’s life than she ever expected. Now Tally is faced with a life-changing decision: break her promise to Shay and become a new pretty or remain an ugly for life.
This may seem like a simple decision to some, but within these choices lie heavy consequences. There are secrets to be revealed, real people living their lives happily in the Smoke, and important themes about beauty within the pages of Uglies. Insecurities about one’s looks and changing body plague the thoughts of teens and young adults alike, making this an indispensable novel in the YA genre. Although major facial reconstruction is not something most people pursue today, we are accustomed to fitting our young children with braces, pinning back ears, and teaching girls how to reach a higher standard of beauty with makeup. True, these modifications aren’t nearly as life-altering as turning into a pretty, but they show our society isn’t immune to the anxiety that comes with how the world sees us.
Tally’s high-tech world presents an unrealistic standard of mass-produced beauty that’s hard to match with real natural beauty’s inconsistencies, and as the story opens up, Westerfield’s community in the Smoke proves to be worthy competition. He shows her what natural maturity looks like and forces her to take the world more seriously. The Smoke isn’t the extreme opposite of Uglyville, but it does provide her with a sense of what real problems look like and the rewards hard work and sincere relationships can bring. Going into the wild, Tally was more than ready to reveal the Smoke’s location so she could have her operation, but where she was looking to become pretty and party it up in New Pretty Town, she begins to appreciate the hard work and beauty of nature. Making a decision about whether to become pretty or not becomes harder as the book goes on, and up until the last page, I was still unsure of what Tally’s fate would be.
Goodreads Rating: 3.87
Recommended for: Young Adult Readers, Girls, Dystopian Lovers
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