holydread (holydread) wrote in bookish,

Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait. In just a few weeks she'll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she'll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.

But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to become a pretty. 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 a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally's choice will change her world forever...
(from the publisher)

010 bb $a 2004106866
020 bb $a 9780689865381
020 bb $a 0689865384
100 1b $a Westerfeld, Scott.
245 00 $a Uglies / $c Scott Westerfeld.
250 bb $a 1st Simon Pulse ed.
260 bb $a New York: $b Simon Pulse, $c 2005.
300 bb $a 425 p.; $c 18cm.
500 bb $a Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Shuster Children's Publishing Division

Tally has finally become pretty. Now her looks are beyond perfect, her clothes are awesome, her boyfriend is totally hot, and she's completely popular. It's everything she's ever wanted.

But beneath all the fun - the nonstop parties, the high-tech luxury, the total freedom - is a nagging sense that something's wrong. Something important. Then a message from Tally's ugly past arrives. Reading it, Tally remembers what's wrong with pretty life, and the fun stops cold.

Now she has to choose between fighting to forget what she knows and fighting for her life - because the authorities don't intend to let anyone with information survive.
(from the publisher)

010 bb $a 2004118120
020 bb $a 978068986539
020 bb $a 0689865392
100 1b $a Westerfeld, Scott.
245 00 $a Pretties / $c Scott Westerfeld.
250 bb $a 1st Simon Pulse ed.
260 bb $a New York: $b Simon Pulse, $c 2005.
300 bb $a 370 p.; $c 18cm.
500 bb $a Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Shuster Children's Publishing Division.

Tally thought they were a rumor, but now she's one of them. A Special. A super-amped fighting machine, engineered to keep the uglies down and the pretties stupid.

But maybe being perfectly programmed with strength and focus isn't better than anything she's ever known. Tally still has memories of something else.

But it's easy for her to tune that out - until she's offered a chance to stamp out the rebels of New Smoke permanently. It all comes down to one last choice: listen to that tiny, faint heartbeat, or carry out the mission she's programmed to complete. Either way, Tally's world will never be the same.
(from the publisher)

010 bb $a 2005933890
020 bb $a 9781416947950 (pbk.)
020 bb $a 1416947957 (pbk.)
020 bb $a 9780689865404 (hc.)
020 bb $a 0689865406 (hc.)
100 1b $a Westerfeld, Scott.
245 00 $a Specials / $c Scott Westerfeld.
250 bb $a 1st Simon Pulse ed.
260 bb $a New York: $b Simon Pulse, $c 2005.
300 bb $a 372 p.; $c 18cm.
500 bb $a Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Shuster Children's Publishing Division.

I don't know quite how to express my relief at finally finding YA fiction that is unequivocally my style. After all the paranormal romance and fantasy settings, Westerfeld's futuristic dystopian scifi is like a breath of fresh air. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed a fair few of the YA fantasy genre these past months (Graceling and A Great Terrible Beauty come to mind) but getting back to science fiction felt like coming home. It's familiar and yet still exciting.

Uglies takes place sometime in the distant future when mankind has rejected "Rusty" ways. They live in clean cities with fixed populations and shudder at the thought of interfering with nature. They use just enough land to support their numbers and the rest of the world (I'm assuming, they talk of cities but not of nations or continents) is left wild. The biggest difference, however, is that at the age of sixteen, teenagers are given the Operation, after which they become Pretty. The Operation is a surgical operation that makes all older teenagers, adults, and elderly look more or less the same - beautiful, but similar. A committee oversees the standards of beauty from city to city but no one is allowed to be far outside their conventions. This uniformity has apparently done away with most discrimination and allows everyone to live in harmony. Pretties don't fight or argue, they simple get along with everyone.

People seem to fall into categories based on age: Littlies (children who live with their parents), Uglies (older children who live in dorms), New Pretties (teenagers after the operation, they live in New Pretty Town and have no responsibilities), Middle Pretties (Pretty adults, who live in suburbs and are parents and form the labour force), and Crumblies (Late Pretties, who live outside the city in suburbs). Then there are also the Smokies (rebel group) and the Specials (government agents).

The protagonist of the series is Tally, who cannot wait to become Pretty and join her older friends in New Pretty Town. As an Ugly, she delights in pulling tricks to fool the authorities of Ugliville and get away with breaking rules. After losing her best friend Paris when he turns Pretty, Tally finds a new friend in Shay, an Ugly who has no interest in becoming Pretty. Through Shay, Tally learns about a world outside the cities where people live in exile and grow up without the Operation. As she learns more about these outsiders, the Pretties, and the mysterious city officials (Special Circumstances) who have suddenly taken an interest in her, Tally begins to see that something more than mere beauty is changing the Pretties.

I can't it put it any simpler than this: I love this series. It's not an especially shocking premise for a dystopia, but it works so well. The manner in which control is kept over the population is believable in that you can see it coming a mile off, but it still keeps your attention through the rest of the series. I love Tally's world, but I will say that if you crave technical and scientific explanations, then you might not. A lot of the city doesn't make sense to me: the ability to synthesize pretty much anything without an obvious resource being just one, but that's all ancillary to the story of human nature and freedom going on in the foreground.

I found my sympathy changed from chapter to chapter. I always liked Tally but, like her, I would sometimes find myself agreeing completely with the government and sometimes I would end up arguing that freedom is tantamount (a la Smokies). It's a fine line to walk where there is neither a right nor a wrong and I think Westerfeld did this masterfully. Even at the conclusion of the series, I'm still not sure who the good guys and bad guys are. What seems at first as a two-sided struggle becomes multi-faceted and even more muddled with issues of morality and "informed consent" by the end of Specials. For all its faults, the world Tally grew up in has so many advantages. All said and done, I'm satisfied with how Tally ended up but I'm still not so sure I agree with the winning side. It's a such a murky moral topic that it's hard to come down firmly in either camp, something Westerfeld himself acknowledges by putting restrictions even on the triumphant faction.

I was also thrilled to find another heroine I could believe in. Tally is not at all perfect; she gets caught in betrayals, changes her loyalties, and hurts some friends, but she's far from callous. She is very much a product of her upbringing but she has a stronger sense of self than anyone else in the series. Above all else, Tally is a survivor by any means necessary. I loved that she lied as often and as freely as necessary - I've gotten a little tired of heroines who immediately give up and beg mercy or admit to the lie by lashing out. At one point Tally even questions why spinning the truth comes so easily to her. It's perhaps a character flaw, but it serves her well as she moves from faction to faction. Through the course of the series, Tally learns what it is to be an Ugly, a Pretty, and even Special but even though her thought process is markedly different in each novel, she remains undeniably herself.

I had originally bought only the first novel in the series but just halfway through it, I had to return to the bookstore and pick up the rest. I haven't started Extras yet, but it's not a part of the original trilogy and doesn't feature Tally so I thought I would go ahead and write about these first. I can't recommend these books enough to anyone who has a soft spot for dystopian scifi. The narrative drags a little in the travelling chapters, but overall these are relatively quick reads that will have you thinking about them even after you've finished.
Tags: category: young adult, genre: science fiction, review, xxx author last name: r-z

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