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"I may not know how to fly but I know how to read and that's almost the same thing."-- Gregory Maguire, Out of Oz

"...while finding true love was one of the most splendid things that could happen to you in life, finding a friend was equally splendid." -- Felix J Palma, The Map of the Sky

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld


In this futuristic world, there are Uglies and there are Pretties. Main character, Tally is an Ugly, who can't wait for her sixteenth birthday, that magical birthday when all newly 16-year-olds get to undergo plastic surgery to become a Pretty. Once Pretty, she gets to go to the New Prettytown, where a Pretty's only job is to have fun. Everything looks like its going to go according to Tally's plan, until her friend Shay, decides to run away rather than become pretty...And Tally is given the task of tracking her down and bring her back into civilization.

I didn't love this book from start to finish, but some parts were definitely more lovable than others. At first the story was hard to get into: Even though the story is told by Tally, who is almost sixteen, her voice seemed to belong to someone much younger than a teenager approaching adulthood. In the beginning it was hard to relate to someone so childlike, but when Tally started meeting with the Agents of Special Circumstance, her innocence worked in the book's favor taking a bad situation and making it so much more disturbing.

As Tally goes off on her quest to find Shay, it eventually gets easy to get lost in the adventure of traveling to a secret society by hoverboard. Once she finds the group, you can't help but feel a little bad for her: Society had groomed her to desire artificial beauty and now all she wants it to be pretty; now she's left facing a moral dilemma about how far she's willing to go to get what she wants and who is she willing to hurt...And just as you're beginning to find substance in the story, Scott Westerfeld had to go and cheapen it with a teenage-love triangle. I don't know why so many YA authors want rely on romance to make their stories stick, and I can understand how Tally and David would work as a plot device... Someone needed to make Tally see herself beyond how the government wants her to perceive herself. But why the third person heartbreak? It didn't advance the story and as a subplot, it went no where.

 I think the morals Scott Westerfeld was trying to express got across clearly, but I think it could have been done better. I understood why he chose simple names for the two classes. Everyone wants to be Pretty, no one wants to be Ugly. But then I read the names of cities: New Prettytown, Uglyville, Crumblytown, Rusty Ruin, and thought, It's like you're not even trying. Then there were things that weren't ever addressed, things that you'd expect to be addressed in a science fiction novel taking place in a futuristic society: Like why parents aren't involved in their children's lives, what kind of government is in place-->If Special Circumstances are in charge of keeping the peace, who gave them that job? And I was able to guess almost immediately from Shay and Tally's conversations about New Pretty behavior, that more than plastic surgery was going on on the operating table, although, that might be because I'm older than the target audience...(Who else noticed the shameless Smash Mouth shout-out?)

In some ways, Tally seemed to mature with the story, in others she regressed. The more pressures she had to deal with, the smarter she became, making decisions cautiously, instead of impulsively. On the other hand, there were numerous time where she could have and should have told the truth, and each time choosing to invent foolish, elaborate lies, rather than asking for help. Which make her a bit of an oxymoron in the end; she wants to do the right thing by her friends, but doesn't care how many people get hurt by her lies.

This book was certainly based on a thought provoking premise, but the story fell short of the concept.

Rating: 3/5

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