by Scott Westerfield
Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?
Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license – for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.
But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all.
The choice Tally makes changes her world forever…
Uglies is a dystopia that surprises every step of the way; or rather with every chapter. I loved that. 😀 I expected something different from what I got and that helped to make me like this book very much.
The story is pretty straightforward at the start. Teenagers in the town are counting down the days until their 16th birthday when they will get a new face, a new body – a whole-body plastic surgery. They will turn into ‘new pretties’ and move to a more adult part of the town. Their entire culture is centred on this big step and children are encouraged to play around with simulations of their bodies and how they can change them. Of course, the actual surgery outcome is determined by a board of people in charge, so no outrageous transformations are possible, but the standards of beauty are still so high that there’s a marked difference in looks from before and after. What does happen, however, is that everyone is now ‘pretty’ and not left out in the looks department. Or are they?
They are pretty, but I doubt the old rule of social stratification does not apply. What makes the change something to dread as a reader is that their personalities appear to change as well. Their old values seem to be forgotten and they all appear to be focused on rather stupid things – endless parties, fun, and drink. I’d say they downgrade, loosing what made them unique and human, but their schooling taught them to desire the change.
Tally is still an ugly at the beginning of the novel, one of the last of her generation to get the surgery, and she is desperate for it since all her friends have gone off to the New Pretties’ Town beyond the river. Feeling lonely, she sneaks off to the forbidden town to meet her old friend who had his surgery a few months ago. Of course, things don’t go as planned, and Tally remarks about his change in demeanour, but she has no idea what caused it. Readers suspect something is going on behind the scenes but can’t predict the truth. The path to it is long and only started when Tally befriends Shay, a girl who doesn’t want to have the operation.
Shay shows a new world to an uninterested Tally, who isn’t all that into the idea of staying her ugly self her entire life. She has fun with the advanced technical gadgets given to the children, but she has no intention to follow Shay into exile with a mysterious guy she had never met. That the guy lives like the people of the past – the Rusties whom children are taught to be stupid and destructive to the environment – is a major detractor.
Tally just waits for her operation when Shay runs away. Thinking that nobody cares about a missing child, Tally is unpleasantly surprised when she’s yanked out of the doctor’s office. A scary government group demands to know where Shay is headed, hunting the people and teenagers who rejected the social order and hid in the mountains. If Tally wants to get her operation and become pretty she must find the group and betray their location. Following the coded message Shay had left to her, Tally must find her way there alone. It is the journey who opens her eyes to another world, another path. Being alone for the first time and forced to rely on her own wits makes Tally realise she’s a competent, smart girl. There’s nothing wrong with her. But her mind is finally changed when she arrives and sees the community these exiles built. The Smoke is the only place where she sees old people for the first time, as ugly as they are, the stories marked in their flesh are beautiful in their own way. That there’s a boy who’s interested in her, is only a plus. She also learns the truth behind the operation and the board members governing the society. Shay is in love with the boy, but Tally can’t help herself. She’s ready to fight for him.
A fatal mistake dashes Tally’s plans for the future and destroys the camp in the mountains. Many are killed, but most are captured and forced to undergo the operation that will erase their personalities and make them perfect members of these futuristic societies. Back in the town she escaped, Tally is desperately trying to save the boy and his family. The betrayals mount and all seems to be lost. Tally is forced to undergo the operation, hoping that she will remember enough of the past to remain functional and able to protect her remaining friends. She also struggles with her guilt since it was her mistake that caused Shay to turn into a mindless pretty and erased her feelings for the boy. Tally may love him, but being the cause of his father’s death, she feels it is hopeless. The book wraps up at this point, setting up everything for the sequel and the fight against the secret government group.
I just hope the next book does not disappoint. 😀