Book Review: Uglies


by Scott Westerfeld


425 pages.

Series: Uglies, Book 1

Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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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…

First Sentence:
The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.

The World:

The Uglies series reminds me a bit of The Giver.  It’s a dystopian novel set centuries after modern human’s civilization has obliterated itself.  The citizens stay mostly isolated in their own cities and live in a seemingly perfect society, which is later revealed to have a darker side.

Picture it:  You are born to beautiful parents whom you look nothing like. Rather than call them ‘mom’ and dad’, you refer to them on a first name basis (not sure if this is a rule or just a cultural thing). At the age of 12, you are sent to boarding school in Uglytown, where you will live throughout your puberty years until you turn 16. On your 16th birthday, you undergo a mandatory operation to make you “pretty”. Your bones are stretched and grinded for perfect height and proportions, your face is completely reconstructed, your teeth are replaced and set, the irises in your eyes are enhanced, and your skin is removed and replaced with better, blemish-free skin.  You then spend the rest of your days living amongst a society of “pretties”, carefree and always provided for.

Futuristic technology makes every item recyclable, so there is no need to deplete resources from nature.  It’s a society that reminds me of The Jetsons.  There is no currency. Everything is free and un-limitless.  I don’t fully understand how that works yet, but perhaps it’s either explained in the other books or I’m just not imaginative enough to comprehend it.  Once you hit… (mid-twenties, maybe?), you are assigned “volunteer work”.

Since everyone is “pretty”, there’s no jealousy or inferiority complexes.  World peace has been achieved, the environment has been saved, and crime is almost non-existent.  Everyone is equal and looks basically the same.  Imagine a world of Barbie Dolls living in Jetson land.

My Thoughts:

This book left me asking a lot of questions about how this society functions. Mainly, I want to know more about how the family units work, where they get an unlimited and unrationed supply of vegan food resources, how they keep the population count controlled, how they deal with the elderly and death… just little things.

All of the pretties are shallow, self-absorbed and seemingly brainless, which fits the modern stereotype of strikingly attractive people.  Without giving away spoilers this early in the review (you will be warned before I do), it does turn out that there is a reason for that.  A normal person in their society is ugly.  Anyone who hasn’t had the operation is ugly.

Our modern day society is seen as stupid, in the eyes of this futuristic culture. The book holds nothing back in telling us how wrong we modern-day humans truly are in pretty much everything we do. We are called “Rusties”, and we are all just so damn stupid with the way we live and function… and UGLY!  Even our magazine models are ugly by their standards.

The main character is a teenage girl named Tally. She is a few months away from turning 16 and can’t wait until she gets her operation so she can go live in Prettytown.  She meets Shay— whose 16th birthday happens to fall on the same day as Tally’s— and learns about a guy named David, who helps people escape the operation and leads them to a secret society full of “Uglies” that live off the land.  Shay tries to convince Tally to run away to this place with her, but Tally decides to stay and go through with the operation.

Only… Tally is denied her operation until she helps the authorities— a government group known as Special Circumstances—  find Shay and uncover the location of the rebel village.  Tally has to travel alone to this place, known as The Smoke, by deciphering a riddled set of directions that Shay left for her. Once there, she must betray Shay and activate a location coordinating device so Special Circumstances can raid the village.

The story is a bit predictable in that Tally gets there and finds that she’s struggling with whose side she’s on.  She ends up making a predictable decision and then does a predictable stupid thing and as a result, all hell breaks loose. The result is a cliffhanger that wasn’t so predictable, which made me want to read more.

Tally’s character annoys me.  Yeah, she is a well written and good character in that she goes through so many changes and inner conflicts, but there is just something about her that makes me think she isn’t the type of person I would get along with.  Shay, on the other hand, is awesome! And though I don’t like at all where they take her character toward the end of the book, it leaves me hoping that it is only temporary—  that it’s just a necessary phase to further develop her character.

Then there’s David.  David is an interesting character in that he was born and raised in the wilderness.  He is the only one free of the cultural brainwashing of the others, so it’s interesting to see how he perceives the “pretty culture”.  I loved David’s character and felt so sorry for him by the end of the book.  I can only hope that in Book 2, we see a lot more of him.

Final Thoughts:

I love the inner conflict this book gave me.  Which is better? Living in Pretty society, or living in The Smoke?

The Smoke: You live out in nature, hunting for food and farming.   You have to cut down trees to build and cook with, but you plant new ones in their place and only take what you need.  Very little to none of the futuristic technology is available.  You remain operation free, stuck with the features you were born with, and age the same way we age in real life.  Thier is a bartering system in place for acquiring items. You have to give back in order to take.

Pretty society: You need very little from nature to survive, but in doing so separates itself from nature.  No trees or animals are harmed. Everyone survives on a vegan diet. You are beautiful and so is everyone around you. You never have to worry about going without anything. No envy, greed or need for violence—  not over resources and not over jealousy of other people.  Life is just one big party and easy ride. But there is a price. SPOILER in 5…4…3… skip to next paragraph to avoid…2…1…  here it is… the surgery also alters a pretty’s brain, making them more into the stereotype I mentioned before and unable to think past their own self-indulgence.  A pretty loses everything about themselves—  their looks and their personality—  their ability to think and feel deep emotions.  Is giving that much up really worth it?

One more thing I would like to bring up that I really liked:  The endless fields of white tiger orchids. A geneticist from our time figures out a way to make them grow more rampantly, and as a result centuries later, they have taken over the landscapes, suffocating any other plant life in their way like a weed and corroding the soil to the point of turning it into sandy deserts.  They are a considered rare and beautiful in our time, but when you have nothing but tiger orchids and nothing else, it loses it’s value entirely. In the words of one of the rangers in the book:

“One of the most beautiful plants in the world. But too successful. They turned into the ultimate weed. What we call a monoculture.” As the rangers explain, when you have a weed like this, it kills everything else off until all you have is orchids; as the ranger says, “That’s what monoculture means: Everything the same” *citation*

Think of the Pretties as white tiger orchids. Do you see the metaphor, or do you think they are incomparable?

In all, just like every other dystopian/utopian story, this story reminds us that there is no such thing as a perfect utopian society. There is always a price to pay. Sacrifices must always be made.  Also, it makes us question what the true definition of beauty is. I know a lot of books do that, but that doesn’t make Uglies any less enjoyable.  I look forward to reading book two, Pretties.

Favorite Quotes:

“What you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful.”

“Perhaps the logical conclusion of everyone looking the same is everyone thinking the same.”

“Maybe they didn’t want you to realize that every civilization has its weakness. There’s always one thing we depend on. And if someone takes it away all that’s left is some story in a history class.”

“Your personality – the real you inside – was the price of beauty.”

“It’s not the traveling that takes courage Tally. I’ve done much longer trips on my own. It’s leaving home.”

“That’s how things were out here in the wild, she was learning. Dangerous or beautiful. Or both.”

“The flowers were so beautiful, so delicate and unthreatening, but they choked everything around them.”


“But you weren’t born expecting that kind of beauty in everyone, all the time. You just got programmed into thinking anything else is ugly.”

History would indicate that the majority of people have always been sheep. Before the operation there were wars and mass hatred and clear cutting. Whatever these lesions make us, it isn’t a far cry from how humanity was in the rusty era. These days we’re just a bit easier to manage.”

“That’s the worst thing they do to you, to any of you. Whatever those brain lesions are all about, the worst damage is done before they even pick up the knife: You’re all brainwashed into believing you’re ugly.”

“Tally snorted. “I don’t think it’s exactly boring, Shay.”
“Doing what you’re supposed to do is always boring. I can’t imagine anything worse than being required to have fun.”
“I can,” Tally said quietly. “Never having any.”

“History would indicate that the majority of people have always been sheep.”

“Whole rainforests had been consumed, reduced from millions of interlocking species to a bunch of cows eating grass, a vast web of life traded for cheap hamburgers.”

One thing about being pretty, people put up with your annoying habits.

“You want to talk about brain damage? Look at you all, running around these ruins playing commando.  You’re all full of schemes and rebellions, crazy with fear and paranoia, even jealousy. That’s what being ugly does.”

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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