Uglies brings back memories of puberty. Wouldn’t it be great if, after puberty, we can all magically become pretty? That’s basically what this story is about, but with a darker spin. Westerfeld has created fast-paced dystopian novel set in a fascinating, high-tech world, and with a frustratingly teenage protagonist building up the tension, I seriously wanted to pick up the sequel right after finishing Uglies. (But I had to sleep, so I started the next book the next evening.)
Far into the future, plastic surgery is the new craze. All sixteen-year-olds are transformed from acne-prone and awkward uglies to mesmerizing and elegant pretties. Tally Youngblood is almost sixteen, and she can’t wait to become pretty so that she can join her best friend Peris in New Pretty Town. But when she meets Shay, another ugly whose friends also turned pretty before she did (and who shares the same birthday as Tally), Tally is shocked to find that some people – like Shay – don’t want to be pretty. And right before their birthdays, Shay runs away. So the higher-ups make Tally choose between leading them to Shay or never turning pretty. Between love and betrayal, Tally learns more about her city and the outside world than she wants and realizes what it really means to become pretty.
Tally is a very contradictory character who embodies many of the traits of your average teenager. She’s daring enough to go bungee-jumping, but gets scared when her appearances are at stake; her dystopian society has made her into caring mostly about the superficial, and so her ideals and decisions are all based around having a symmetrical face and having smooth skin. Throughout Uglies, Tally gains knowledge about her world that make her change those ideals and decisions, but sometimes the changes come too late. I got frustrated watching Tally make mistake after mistake, but she’s a teenager, and that’s what teenagers do. In the end, she redeems herself somewhat, but it will be interesting to see how her mistakes will affect her in the next book.
The supporting characters in Uglies are simple and straightforward in their roles and have distinctive personalities. And when I say “supporting”, I mean that these characters are important for driving the plot: Shay and Tally’s love interest, among others, shape the way Tally views the world around her and significantly impact the decisions (and mistakes) that Tally makes.
In addition to the diverse characters, Westerfeld has created an amazingly high-tech society of the future, with hovercars and hoverboards, toothbrush pills, just-add-water pad thai, and interface rings that function like mini computer-phones, among other cool gadgets. The creative backstory that Westerfeld invents for the apocalypse that ended the old human civilization is also fascinating and seemingly plausible. The great worldbuilding also complements the grippingly fast-paced storyline and the unexpected plot twists. When I got to the cliffhanger at the very end, it took all my willpower to not pick up Pretties immediately after finishing Uglies just so I can continue to be immersed in Westerfeld’s world. And guess what? I have no willpower so that’s exactly what I did the next night, haha.
Westerfeld’s Uglies is a captivating dystopian novel that got me thinking about the importance (or lack of) of having a pretty face. The protagonist is relatable and thinks like a real teenager instead of a perfect human being, and I can’t wait to read more about her adventures in the sequel. If you’re looking for a fast-paced young adult sci-fi, give Uglies a go. Just be prepared for sequel-craving feels.