On a trip this week I finally read a book that has intrigued me ever since I first hear about it: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Uglies is about a girl named Tally, who lives in a future society in which everyone undergoes extensive plastic surgery at 16. The idea is to remove the conflicts and unfairnesses associated with differing levels of beauty, by bringing everyone up to some pre-defined standard. Tally, to her frustration, remains a pre-surgery Ugly, while her slightly older friends have moved on to the post-surgery world of Pretties.
The young Uglies are second-class citizens, living in dorms isolated from everyone else, constantly aware of their own imperfections and inadequacies. They run around playing "tricks" to blow off steam, but everything that they do is just marking time until they can become pretty.
In the course of one of her escapades, Tally meets up with Shay, another Ugly who shares Tally's birthday. The two girls become friends, and Tally learns of Shay's ambivalence regarding the upcoming operation. This ambivalence leads both girls into an adventure, in which they meet new people, test their own limits, and confront unexpected ideas.
I found the premise underlying the story fascinating. I've always had a fondness for books the explore post-apocalyptic future societies. In that context, Uglies reminded me of John Christopher's Tripods Trilogy (one of my favorite series as a young adult), Jennifer Armstrong and Nancy Butcher's Fire-us Trilogy, and Jeanne Duprau's Ember Books, all of which feature kids making their way in a world that bears only remnants of our own society. In Uglies, however, the new society that has formed includes high-tech toys, environmental awareness, glistening towers, and beautiful people. The book is a fascinating look at our concepts of beauty, and how our looks affect what we think of ourselves and others.
The other thing that made Uglies stand out for me (besides the storyline itself, which would have kept me reading anyway) was the voice of Tally. Her voice is strong and engaging. She longs for the beauty that any teen would want, especially any teen growing up in her world. Over the course of the book she makes mistakes, but anguishes over them, and finds her own bravery. She feels real.
Uglies is one of those books that left me wanting more. Fortunately, it's the first book in a trilogy. As soon I got home from my trip yesterday, I went out to the bookstore to buy the second book: Pretties. I'll be reading that one on next week's trip. Overall, I highly recommend Uglies. I think that it's a must-read for anyone interested in young adult literature, or anyone who likes to ponder "what-if" sorts of questions.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.