Plot summary: Fifteen year-old Tally lives in a post-apocalyptic society where boys and girls from the ages of 12 to 16 are “Uglies”. Upon turning 16, everyone undergoes surgery to become “Pretties” – enhanced, beautiful people whose sole responsibility is to be beautiful, throw and attend parties, and enjoy life. Tally has waited to be Pretty and join her friends in New Pretty Town. When she meets Shay, who shares her birthday – but not her desire to be Pretty – Tally learns about a place where they can run away and avoid the surgery. Tally refuses to go, leaving Shay to run off on her own. On the day of Tally’s operation, Special Circumstances informs her that she must find them and turn them in. If she refuses, she’ll never have her operation and be Ugly forever.
Tally finds Shay, the rest of the escaped Uglies, and their leader, David, in a settlement they call The Smoke. Living among them, Tally discovers that she may not want to be Pretty after all, and certainly doesn’t want to betray her new friends. As David and Tally grow closer, she learns more about the Pretty operation from David’s parents – scientists who performed the Pretty operations until discovering that the operations altered the Pretties’ brains, leaving easier to control. With all of this information in her hands, Tally has decisions to make – but will time run out before she can make the right one?
Critical Evaluation: The Uglies is a morality tale in a post-apocalyptic setting. The society frowns upon the “Rusties” for destroying the earth by abusing metal and other natural resources, bringing about catastrophe, but theirs is a society built on the artificial. Even the people have become largely artificial, with the “pretty” surgery taking place at 16, what we would consider a volatile age when many young men and women have body and image issues. Natural beauty is no longer, as illustrated when Tally sees an old fashion magazine and is horrified at the “ugly” models and celebrities. When Tally is offered a choice – to betray her friend or remain ugly forever, she initially chooses betrayal. Only by living among the group at The Smoke does she realize that beauty is skin deep.
Awards: American Library Association (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults (2006); Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best for Teens (2005); Kirkus Editor’s Choice (2005); New York Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age” (2005); School Library Journal Best Books of the Year (2005); Texas Lone Star Reading List (2006-2007); VOYA‘s Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers (2005); Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Best Books For Young Adults (2006); YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (2006);
YALSA Quick Picks Nominee (2006)
Reviews: Kirkus Reviews (starred): “With a beginning and ending that pack hefty punches, this introduction to a dystopic future promises an exciting series.”
School Library Journal (starred): “Highly readable with a convincing plot that incorporates futuristic techonologies and a disturbing commentary on our current public policies. Fortunately, the cliff-hanger ending promises a sequel.”
Reader’s Annotation: What would you do to be pretty forever?
Author Information: Scott Westerfeld’s website offers information about the author, his books, book trailers, and a discussion forum.
Genre: Science Fiction, with subgenres including dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction, friendship, romance.
Booktalking Ideas: What would you do if you were offered the chance to look perfect? What would you do if it wasn’t a choice? In 15 year-old Tally’s society, turning 16 means becoming a Pretty – they will shave her bones, fill her face and body with plastic until she is perfect, and then reunite her with her friends in New Pretty City. But there’s a catch – to be Pretty, she has to betray her friend Shay, who wants to be herself. What would you do? Do you identify with Tally or with Shay?
Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12-16
Challenge Issues/Defense: Cosmetic surgery on teenagers. Defense: The book illustrates how cosmetic surgery is part of an artificial, skin-deep society where surgery is used as a means of control over the population.
Why did you include this book in you’re the titles you selected?
This is a highly praised dystopian novel and an emerging new classic.