A sticker on the Uglies series reads, ‘Before the Hunger Games there was….’ This is one of my pet peeves, which probably deserves a post by itself. The idea that there were dystopian books before ‘The Hunger Games’ rose to popularity seems to astound people.
The concept of this series is all people are born ugly. When they turn sixteen, they become pretty, through surgery and genetic implants. It was interesting to read a book that discussed beauty and how its presented in a way that didn’t seem glaringly obvious. When you pick up this book, you’re not bombarded with a social agenda to redefine beauty. Tally, the protagonist, just wants to be pretty. Shay, her best friend, doesn’t.
The series follows the two girls as they try and face what their government is doing to its people. Is being Pretty really all that matters? Is being Ugly really that bad? What does it mean to be ugly?
Tally and Shay discover a city that doesn’t subscribe to the government’s ideals. They live off the land, with no uber-technology used for elaborate pranks. They work. They’re living as the Rusties did. (Rusties are people in the 21st Century. It was weird for characters to criticise how we live now!)
Throughout the series, I didn’t like Tally’s personality. She was dependent on others at the beginning, but then became someone so extracted for the Ugly fifteen year old she was in the first book by the third book that I couldn’t connect to her perspective. She acts on impulse. She doesn’t seem to respect other character’s decisions.
As the books are called ‘Uglies’, ‘Pretties’ and ‘Specials’, it’s fairly easy to guess what happens to Tally in each one. Specials are cruel Pretties, kind of like law enforcers but with a lot of tattoos. Tally resents them, but if you can’t beat them, join them, right? If I was to retitle these books they’d be called ‘Innocence’, ‘Experience’ and ‘Everything’s My Fault’.
You can tell when reading the series that Scott Westerfeld put a lot of work into the world. There’s a lot of jargon, like ‘mag-lev’ and ‘bubblehead’ and different branches of Pretties and Specials like ‘Crims’ and ‘Cutters’. Everything has a label, but everything is explained. The language is simply and easy to read, with the inhabitants of the Uglies universe using their own slightly annoying dialect, which was totally annoying-making.
A lot of people really love this series, and I can understand why. It’s action packed. There are a lot of scenes that use futuristic inventions like hover boards and sneak suits and bungee jackets. The range of characters is diverse, and reminded me of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, illustrating the divide between the ‘civilised’ and the ‘savages’.
Overall, I’d give this series 2.5 stars. The concept was new and thought-provoking, but the nature of the world seemed predictable. The relationships between the characters, both romantic and plutonic were shallow and irritating – the back and forth between feeling comfortable being yourself and changing your appearance got old quite quickly. However, I enjoyed the quotes at the beginning of each part. They set the tone for what was about to be read.
I intended to review the spin-off book for this trilogy, ‘Extras’, which I liked a lot more than the original saga of Tally Youngblood.