There may be some slight spoilers here, but I’ve tried hard not to have too many spoilers.
There’s just something about YA fiction that I love. I think sometimes people assume that means (as an adult) that reading YA is a comment on your intelligence. False, I say! Hand me some Bronte sisters and I’ll be just as interested. That’s not the point, though, now is it?
I just finished reading the first three novels in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series (Uglies, Pretties, Specials). I picked up Uglies for 75% off at the book store and read through it in a couple of days. I immediately had to have the rest and went to my favorite place to buy used books – half.com. (Half should make me their spokesperson, I’m always going on about it to people looking for books!)
The series is set more than 300 years in the future after humans have all but destroyed the planet with war and clear-cutting. The once large and magnificent buildings of steel and stone are set crumbling and rusting. In order to avoid petty arguments and wars over differences, everyone must undergo a surgery on their 16th birthday to make them “pretty”.
The heroine of the story is Tally Youngblood. Uglies opens with her yearning to turn 16 to have her surgery turning her from an ugly to a pretty so she can join her friends in New Pretty Town. But she meets a girl named Shay, who shares Tally’s birthday. Shay tells Tally that she doesn’t want to become a pretty, she wants to stay an ugly and run away from the city to live in what is called The Smoke – a group of people who don’t depend on the city to live, they live in the wild.
Tally is pretty much against that idea, she just wants to become pretty and finally be free of her “ugly” face that she’s been conditioned to find repulsive. Shay disappears, though, prompting a group called Special Circumstances lead by the horrible Dr. Cable to force Tally out into the wild so she can find Shay, alert Dr. Cable to The Smoke’s location – allowing her to swoop in and destroy it. Dr. Cable tells Tally if she doesn’t do this, she will never allow Tally to have her pretty operation. Tally becomes conflicted between her own desires of becoming pretty and living in New Pretty Town, and betraying her friend Shay.
The story really grabbed me right off the bat. It’s so interesting to me to read about what could happen if we were to practically destroy ourselves – what type of society would rise from that. In the Uglies series we have a big brother type government. And while forcing everyone under extreme plastic surgery to make sure everyone looks similar might sound like a good idea for a minute, but it was sure to backfire. Also, there is something wrong with the pretties, they just don’t know it.
Pretties has a more in-depth look at what it means to be a pretty. Life in New Pretty town is always fun, it’s nothing but partying and drinking. No one takes life seriously, and they are all a little air headed (actually, a lot air headed.) Pretties shares the same themes as its predecessor does. No one has to think for themselves, and everything is handed to them. The only negative thing I have to say about this book is that the first half of it or so was almost hard to read. The pretty-heads aren’t all there and their speech became annoying.
Here is an excerpt, which I have copied from Barnes and Noble: (The following might possibly be a little spoilerish – that’s not a word but I just made it one, so go ahead and add that to your vocabulary, no one will think anything of it!)
Shay had breakfast in tow: lobster omelettes, toast, hash browns, corn fritters, grapes, chocolate muffins, and Bloodies — more food than a whole packet of calorie purgers could erase. The overburdened tray shivered in the air, its lifters trembling like a littlie arriving at school, first day ever.
“Um, Shay? Are we going as blimps or something?”
Shay giggled. “No, but you sounded bad. And you have to be bubbly tonight. All the Crims are coming to vote you in.”
“Great, bubbly.” Tally sighed, relieving the tray of a Bloody Mary. She frowned at the first sip. “Not salty enough.”
“No problem,” Shay said, scraping off the caviar decorating an omelette and stirring it in.
“Caviar is good with anything.” Shay took another spoonful and put it straight into her mouth, closing her eyes to chew the little fish eggs. She twisted her ring to start some music.
Tally swallowed and drank more Bloody, which at least stopped the room from spinning. The chocolate muffins were starting to smell good. Then she’d move on to the hash browns. Then the omelette; she might even try the caviar. Breakfast was the meal when Tally most felt like she had to make up for the time she’d lost out in the wild. A good breakfast binge made her feel in control, as if a storm of city-made tastes could erase the months of stews and SpagBol.
The music was new and made her heart beat faster. “Thanks, Shay-la. You are totally life-saving.”
“No problem, Tally-wa.”
“So where were you last night, anyway?”
Shay just smiled, like she’d done something bad.
“What? New boy?”
Shay shook her head. Batted her eyes.
“You didn’t surge again, did you?” Tally asked, and Shay giggled. “You did. You’re not supposed to more than once a week. Could you be any more missing?”
Specials, as you might have guessed by the title, is a deeper look into Special Circumstance, and Dr. Cable herself. I think of the three, Specials might be my favorite. With it you get a larger look at the world, what was done to destroy it, and what is being done to prevent its destruction again. Tally again has to learn who she is, and who her friends are. It’s so hard to read everyone’s true colors with all the surgery that goes on.
Tally is a great heroine, because she’s so strong and weak at the same time. She lets herself become manipulated, and then decides to fight back. She has many adventures both in the wild, and in the city. She meets so many different people that she had no idea existed in her “ugly” days. It’s a look at a dystopian future that is all too possible – which makes it even scarier.
I really recommend these books to anyone who likes Young Adult dystopian fiction. Even if you get hung up on the pretty-head talk of the second book, it’s definitely worth pushing through to get to the meat of the story.