If you haven’t read the book yet, I do go into the ending in this piece so if you don’t want to know how Uglies ends, move along now.
Uglies is the first book in a four book series by Scott Westerfeld. It takes us into the future where society as we know it has disentegrated and our society as we live today is referred to as The Rusties.
Within this new world there are several divides. Ugly town, Pretty Town and the authoritative City which also encompasses Special Circumstances, a secret service of the new world.
The premise of the book is that when everyone turns sixteen they are given an operation which transforms them into a Pretty, someone who is of perfect dimension, based on their biology, so everyone is different, yet the same as they are given the exact proportions of what is determined to be pretty by the order of the City surgeons.
We meet Tally gate crashing a Pretty party to visit her newly Pretty childhood friend Peris. He has settled into life in New Pretty Town with all his new pretty friends, and as Tally is still an ugly she has broken many rules by even visiting him. During her escape from Pretty Town on her hoverboard, she meets Shay and they become close friends, pulling tricks while waiting to turn 16 on the same day. Tally is obsessed with turning Pretty while Shay is not so sure, and begins to talk to Tally about an alternative to the operation.
The Smokies are a rumoured group of rebels who refuse the operation and stay Ugly and live out in the wild in their own civilisation. They are highly sought after by the City as a threat to the order it has created.
On the eve of the operation Shay decides to leave the city to live with the smokies and leaves Tally a cryptic note describing how to find her and how to get to The Smoke. On the day of Tally’s operation instead of being taken to be transformed, she is arrested by the city and given an ultimatum by the ruling Dr Cable, to find The Smoke while carrying a tracking device and then to turn the tracking device on once she has arrived so the city can come and destroy the rebels.
Tally arrives at the smoke and meets David, a natural ugly who is 18, an age that Tally has never seen untransformed into Prettiness. They begin a romance which crushes her friend Shay who had her own romantic ideas about David.
David teaches Tally everything he knows about the wild, about his philosophy about the City and most importantly what the operation actually does. It not only transforms your body, but it transforms your mind as well so that you cannot think for yourself or question authority. The city injects nanos into your brain which keep you under their control through compliance. David’s parents have found what they believe to be a cure but it is untested on a Pretty.
Tally is convinced about the Smoke’s objectives and understands the controlling nature of the city and decides to stay in the Smoke and not to betray it to the City and throws the tracking device into the fire, inadvertently triggering the tracking device. The city Specials arrive the next day and destroy the smoke and Tally is exposed as a traitor. To try to prove her intentions, she volunteers to return to the city to be transformed into a Pretty so that they can try the cure on her. Shay is kidnapped by the specials and transformed into a Pretty.
This is where Uglies finishes.
If you’re studying Uglies as a prescribed text there are many themes to consider.
What constitutes beauty and what benefits are there to being beautiful? What would happen if everyone was beautiful? In Uglies although everyone is created ‘the same’ there are still differences. The idea behind the transformation was to rid society of anorexia, jealousy, wars. If everyone was perfect there would be nothing to be angry about because everyone is wonderful. However, even within the Pretties, there are slight jealousies about clothes, eye colour, hair colour. The nature of the human condition has not been changed by its outward appearance.
Possessions and Status
In our modern world we revere beauty and there are many statistics to support that the more attractive a person is perceived, the better they will do in life in terms of material wealth and societal status. Pretty Town tries to eliminate this by providing everything a pretty could want, food, clothes, accommodation. Everything is taken care of and everything is uniform aside from some minute personal choices. However, it was also deemed necessary by the capital for the minds of the pretties to be altered to accept this as normal and not to argue or become overly jealous about the appearance or use of possessions of others. Providing beauty and goods alone does not quieten the nature of man.
The Power of the Human Mind
Throughout Uglies, the idea that a person can overcome brainwashing by the power of one’s own mind is a strong thematic concern and indeed runs through the whole series. The ability to take on learned knowledge, new ideas, and to find one’s own belief system are strongly demonstrated.
The Power of a Single Idea
The nature of society and government is examined and boiled down to the power of a single idea being enough to bring an empire down. This can be reflected through history in terms of communism, socialism, the Germans in WW2. It has only ever been a single idea, from one person, that has created great movements in society and this is demonstrated intensely in Uglies and throughout the series.
Uglies is a tricky read to begin with so give yourself at least the first 50 pages to get into the world and the use of language. Once you conquer it, it’s a great ride.
Westerfeld has written an accompanying book From Bogus to Bubbly which translates some of the language used in the book and also the technology and the hoverboards that everyone wants, but I wouldn’t recommend reading it until you’ve read all four books in the series otherwise some cliff hangers are totally ruined.
The series continues with Pretties, Specials and then Extras which takes up the story 3 years later. I”ll add further cliff notes about Pretties and Specials at a later date, as for those who haven’t read Uglies it can detract from the first book and also the whole series.
Westerfeld is a great writer and I’m currently reading the Midnighter series which will also have cliff notes soon once I”ve finished the entire series. Although the Uglies series is classed as teen fiction, it is a great read for any age group and each book leaves on a huge cliff hanger so you can hardly wait to get your hands on the next one. I can see it becoming a classic work as a prescribed text for the number of themes raised in the work for the teens but it is also thought provoking for anyone who thinks.
Update: Here is a link Extras book review I hope you enjoy