Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies book.jpg

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld was published in 2005, the same year as Twilight, but never quite hit the fashionable heights at the time. With the subsequent success of Twilight, Hunger Games and the start of the Divergent movie series, Uglies is one of those books that surfaces in a search for dystopian YA fiction.
The heroine, Tally Youngblood, lives in a world post-eco collapse where everybody has radical plastic surgery on their 16th birthday to be turned into the absolute peak of physical perfection; they get turned Pretty. Before that (and afterwards) there is a strict age-related system in place so that, from the ages of 12 to 16 the youth live together in Ugly colonies, causing trouble and doing silly things because, hey, that's what puberty-hit kids do.
The book opens as Tally has gone to find her best friend (and potential boyfriend) Peris who is already a Pretty. His dismissive attitude to her makes her keen to be a Pretty as well, until she meets Shay, an ugly who wants to stay ugly. She introduces Tally to the idea of the Smoke, a place in the wilderness where people stay just as they are, where Shay wants to go and live, driven also by the liking she has for David. When Shay escapes she leaves coded instructions for Tally to follow; instructions Tally has no wish to follow until the Specials (not the 80's band but a secret police force) give her a simple choice; go and find the Smoke and betray the people there or stay an ugly forever. Armed with a months supply of Spagbol and a hover board, Tally sets off.

I found the book an easy read in terms of plot; it kept me going and wanting to know what happens next to the people. Tally was not the most sympathetic heroine I have ever met, mostly because I got very judgemental of her and her fixation on perfection, or being part of the crowd at the start of the novel. My allegiance lay with the  uglies, as it is designed to do, since the novel has a whole "perfection vs normal" issue going on. It's interesting to see that in the 7 years since it was published the quest for perfection has really only increased, and that young people nowadays face so much pressure regarding body image and fitting in to the norm.
I'd happily recommend Uglies to any teenager who isn't a perfect shape and who needs to think issues of body image through. It seems a shame that Uglies isn't likely to be filmed, while Twilight (where the Big Conversion to vampire makes the person perfect) was. I also think there is a whole issue about how true equality should be achieved by appreciating the individual rather than seeking the homogeneous (a capitalism vs socialism idea?) that could provide a decent discussion for a group.


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