by Scott Westerfeld
2005. 348 pages.
Series: Uglies, Book 2
Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Final Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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 this information survive.
Getting dressed was always the hardest part of the afternoon.
The first thing I should mention about this book is that you cannot expect to read it as a stand-alone book and not get confused. In the Uglies series, YOU MUST READ BOOK ONE FIRST before attempting the others. These books are meant to be read in order. If you haven’t read Uglies yet, click here to read my review for it before reading this review. I explain there a little more about the dynamics of the world and how the society works.
Pretties picks up right where Uglies left off. Tally has voluntarily turned herself into Special Circumstances and made Pretty, in hopes that the Smokies can get to her an experimental cure for the lesions that are made in the brain during the Pretty operation.
Whereas the first book focused primarily on the life of Uglies, this book takes us to the heart of New Pretty Town. Tally has been a pretty for a little over a month and is trying desperately to get into a clique known as the Crims, who are well known for playing plenty of tricks in their Ugly days. She has very little memory of her time in the Smokies and only barely remembers David, the boy she fell in love with. Not surprisingly, due to the effects of the operation, Tally and Shay are once again great friends, despite of all the crap that went down in Book 1.
The Life of a Pretty
The life of a teenage pretty is what most of us would consider paradise. Everyone is beautiful with seemingly little to no sexual boundaries, everyone gets along, there’s no crime, plenty of food, endless parties, unlimited alcohol, entertainment at every corner, and best of all… it’s all free!
There’s always got to be a catch to all things good, however. All of the Pretties have lesions on thier brains, which is purposely a result of the Pretty surgery. This makes them see life through a foggy glass lens, so to speak. Their senses are dulled, there short term memories and ability to focus are damaged, and their ability to cause conflict or violence amongst each other is reduced to nothing. In all, life is better than peachy, but their self-awareness is clouded. This makes it all too easy for the Special Circumstances regime to control them, by keeping them pacified and stupid.
We are reminded throughout the book just how superficial the world of Pretties can be. From the crazy cliques to the annoying slang they constantly use: Bubbly, Bogus, Pretty-making, sad-making, etc. Perhaps the most annoying of all is when Shay refers to Tally as ‘Tally-wa’ and Tally refers to Shay as ‘Shay-la’. So yeah, add a ‘wa’ and ‘la’ to the end of everyone’s name and that’s ‘pretty-making’.
As much as the crazy slang might have annoyed me, it was painfully necessary to convey the personalities and lives of these dystopian teens. From the very first sentence of the book, it’s made clear that they are living in a carefree Barbie world: Getting dressed was always the hardest part of the afternoon. It goes on to describe Tally’s frustration of all garments considered semiformal. What I wouldn’t give if that was my hardest part of the afternoon.
Enter New Love Interest
In Book 1, Tally falls for David during her time in the Smoke. In this book, David doesn’t even make an appearance until the last few chapters, and it is all too brief. The Pretty surgery made all of Tally’s memories of David fuzzy, so it wasn’t hard for her to move on with Crim clique leader and fellow Pretty, Zane. I liked Zane, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him at the end of the book. I know that younger fans of this series have a ‘Team David” or Team Zane” thing going on. While I like David’s character a lot, I think that Zane is better suited for Tally’s personality.
While well-written and interesting, Tally’s character is still one that I have trouble liking. I didn’t find her personality appealing as an Ugly or a Pretty. She’s one of those types I would probably not get along with in real life.
Shay’s character is still interesting and I didn’t see her development at the end of the book coming, though I should have. It should have been obvious what direction her character was going in, but somehow it still surprised me. While Shay doesn’t do a lot of stuff that’s noble or even likable in Pretties, I couldn’t really blame her for the decisions she made after all that she lost as a result of her best friend’s betrayal.
Surprisingly, Dr. Cable made only a brief appearance. Considering she is supposed to be the main representative of the main villain (Special Circumstances), I was expecting to see her play a bigger part— perhaps give her a bit more depth. She’s not the most convincing villain to me, so it wasn’t any big loss to not see her much in this installment.
In an effort to keep themselves “bubbly” (that means ‘fully aware and alert’ in normal- people talk), Shay and a group of Pretty followers begin partaking in self mutilation rituals. I found this very disturbing. I can understand where they would feel the need to use such a method in desperation to regain control of their minds, but it still made me cringe to read about it. Pain, hunger, fear and shock are things that help them stay focused— primal elements that activate the fight or flight part of the brain. It makes sense, but seems a little… much, perhaps?
The new discovery
The first half of the book focuses on Tally and Zane regaining their mental clarity and trying to find a way to escape Prettyville. After awhile, I started getting a bit impatient with it. The last half of the book made up for it when Tally found herself stranded in the middle of a society of indigenousness people. This tribe turns out to be an anthropology experiment conducted by Special Circumstances. In order to control the fundamentals of the human species, one must after all, understand humanity in its most primitive form. This development was a fresh and welcome turn to the book, as I was starting to grow bored with New Pretty Town.
I admit that I was expecting more development in the book from the New Smoke crew, but we only see the New Smoke setting in the last few chapters of the book. Spoiler… Tally and Zane’s time there ended almost as soon as they got there.
I enjoyed reading Pretties, but I did not like it quite as much as I liked Uglies. It did manage to end with a bang of a development, so I will be all over the third book to see what happens.
The thing that intrigued me most about Pretties was the moral dilemma of who the true bad guys were. Is the Special Circumstances regime really all that bad? They, for the most part, use violence as an absolute last resort. Their citizens live in peace with no war, crime or social inequality. They have an unlimited amount of food and supplies and free unlimited healthcare. They take care of the environment and do not use many of Earth’s natural resources. Their citizens live very comfortable lives with little to no worries. The only restrictions the citizens seem to have is they must undergo the Pretty operation and they cannot stray from the system as the Smokies did.
But all of those great things do come with a price, and in this case, it is brain damage. Are all those great things worth living for if you’re living in a brain fog, never perceiving your surroundings with any true clarity? Is it truly vital that everyone has to become a Pretty and sustain brain damage in order for humans to prosper and live peacefully?
The Smokies value their freedom of choice to live in their original skin with their brains fully functional. That’s reasonable enough. The Smokies get to experience the world as it really is. They live out the human experience to its fullest. They appreciate the good things more than a Pretty ever could, because they have seen and felt the bad things as well. Their sort of society almost guarantees eventual overpopulation, inequality, limited resources, crime, war, illness and hunger, but they have a freedom that the Pretties have sacrificed. Most importantly, they have their minds.
I’ll close with this excerpt from the book: Maybe it went deeper than that. Tally remembered her conversation with Dr. Cable, who had claimed that human beings always rediscovered war, always became Rusties in the end—the species was a planetary plaque, whether they knew what a planet was or not. So what was the cure for that except for the operation?
“Everyone in the world was programmed by the place they were born, hemmed in by their beliefs, but you had to at least try to grow your own brain.”
“Their reasons don’t mean anything unless I have a choice.”
“Left alone, human beings are a plague. They multiply relentlessly, consuming every resource, destroying everything they touch.”
“Being pretty-minded is simply the natural state for most people. They want to be vapid and lazy and vain . . . and selfish. It only takes a twist to lock in that part of their personalities.”
“And the worst thing was, there were no mirrors out there in the wild, so the princess was left wondering whether she in fact was still beautiful… or if the fall had changed the story completely.”
“Maybe human beings are programmed…to help one another, even to fall in love. But just because it’s human nature doesn’t make it bad…”
Of course, getting what you wanted never turned out the way you thought it would.