When I think about this book, the first thing I always hear in my head is the movie trailer guy saying “In a world…where people are born ugly…” Which is silly, because this book isn’t your typical action/adventure fare. It’s so much more.
Tally couldn’t be more excited. She’s about to turn sixteen, and that’s when all the uglies have the operation that makes them pretty. She can’t wait to follow her best friend, Peris, over to New Pretty Town where the youngest pretties hang out, go to parties and drink champagne. That’s all you have to do there, but from what she can tell from sneaking a peek, it’s more than enough. All the clothes, food and celebrations that you can handle. Peris is a couple of months older than Tally, and she hopes that when she’s reunited with him, they will be together again.
The only thing fun to do in Uglyville is to do tricks, like trying to get across the bridge to New Pretty Town without its knowing (or telling) and trying to fool the house monitor into thinking that you’re still in bed. Once Peris has been made pretty, and Tally is alone, it’s not as much fun. She sneaks into the high rise where Peris lives one night, and though he seems happy to see her, more than just his appearance is different. When she’s trying to cross the river back to Uglyville, that’s when Tally meets Shay.
Discovering that they have the same birthday and the same penchant for doing tricks, Shay helps Tally perfect riding a hoverboard. They sneak out at night and even go down to the Rustie ruins and look around. Then Shay tells Tally about David, a person who is rumored to live in The Smoke, a sort-of mythological area where people don’t get made pretty and live off the land. It’ a secret place that no one knows how to get to. On a night close to their birthday, Shay breaks the news to Tally: she is waiting for David to come and get her so she can disappear. Tally is sorry to see her go, but Tally wants to be pretty more than anything, and she misses Peris. But before Shay leaves, she gives Tally a cryptic set of directions that will guide her to The Smoke in case she wants to join them later.
Unfortunately for Tally, the operation will have to wait. the day of, she is whisked away in a hovercar to Special Circumstances, a place that no one believes really exists. The pretties here look cruel and cold, and Tally is told that she must try and find Shay and The Smoke, or Tally will never be pretty. A few days back in Uglyville and a visit from her parents and Peris are all it takes to make her agree to the demands of Special Circumstances. Because, as they explain it, Shay needs to be rescued from these people who took her. And Tally is the one who needs to find her.
One of the first young adult dystopian novels, the world in Uglies states that wars, unhappiness and other bad things were caused because of people’s looks. So if everyone was pretty, that would make the world a better place. What most do not know, however, is the extent that this operation changes who you are on the inside. All Tally knows is the propaganda she has been fed and the sights she has seen. Everyone, including her parents and friends that have gone through the procedure, seem so happy.
Once Tally finds out that Special Circumstances is real and they want her to betray a confidence, Tally’s yearning to go through with the operation is at odds with her desire to keep Shay’s secret. Once she agrees with the Specials, and is given a locket she will activate to tell the Specials where she is located, she leaves on her arduous journey to find Shay.
Of course, not everything goes as planned. Tally doesn’t expect to see so many uglies with so much confidence; that’s something that only the pretties have. She certainly never anticipated how much she enjoys working, using tools, being outside. And most of all, she never imagined that she would fall in love with a Smokie.
But what about her secret, that she is supposed to betray those who have made her a part of their community? Can she go through with it after she’s gotten to know them?
The Bottom Line: A fabulous book that shows that things aren’t always what they seem, pretty or not.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld was published February 8, 2005 by Simon & Schuster Children’s. Ink and Page purchased this book, so no one had a choice about whether it was reviewed.
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction Dystopian Romance
Ages: 12 and up
You Might Want to Know: Underage drinking