Review: Uglies

“Perhaps the logical conclusion of everyone looking the same is everyone thinking the same.” -Scott Westerfeld

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
406 pages
Genre: YA, science fiction
Published by: Simon and Schuster, 2005
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: It was fun to return to this world.


Reviewed by Indiana
Spoiler-free review

There are certain series I read as a child or teen that I’m scared won’t hold up. That they weren’t really as good as my memory thinks they were. Or that they just don’t have the staying power that I thought they did.

With a new series in the Uglies world coming out this fall, I wanted to revisit the Uglies series. I picked the first one up in middle school and remember loving it. I thought it was such a creepy world; where being “normal” is considered ugly and everyone has to be surgically altered when they’re 16 to make them “pretty” and biologically attractive.

It makes sense for a middle-schooler to really feel in-tune with this world. Middle school tends to be the toughest time in terms of social-awkwardness and crushingly low (or overblown) self-esteem. Everything is made extreme.

So I thought my enjoyment of Uglies was probably trapped in that “had to be there” moment. But it definitely wasn’t. I think Westerfeld touched on the issue that no matter how much people preach body positivity, the Western world will always struggle with body acceptance.

For those who aren’t familiar with the series, it follows Tally Youngblood, a teen who is on the verge of turning “pretty”. Her best friend, Peris, was a bit older than her so he had the operation done first. She gets lonely living in Uglyville and illegally hops over to New Pretty Town for the night to see Peris.

Right from the start Tally is set up to be a rebellious character, and she doesn’t break from that character trait throughout the book. However, when she meets a fellow ugly named Shay, she gets into more trouble than she bargained for.

Tally is thrown into this other culture, called the Smokies, where everyone has denied the whole idea of being “pretty,” and decided to start from scratch. She comes to love the culture, which is problematic because they’re the people she’s supposed to betray.

The plot is strong and I never felt like there was any “fat” or unnecessary sub plots. Though it sounds like a surface-level philosophical debate (the importance of being physically “pretty”), Westerfeld does a great job of further exploring that. Even the most logical uglies wanted to go pretty because they were told it made them “biologically perfect”, and who wouldn’t want to be “biologically perfect”? It’s a creepy idea that I don’t think is completely impossible (though the surgery reminds me too much of the opening to Westworld).    

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