Friday, October 2, 2009

Book Review: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait.  Not for her license-- for turning pretty.  In Tally's world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time.  In just a few weeks, Tally will be there.

But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to be pretty.  She'd rather risk life on the outside.  When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world-- and it isn't very pretty.  The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all.  The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.


Well, first let me say that even though "Uglies" isn't a "new" book, a trustworthy buddy Graham, who also reviews books had suggested I read the series. (Shout out to Graham for the recommendation...check out his review site by clicking HERE)  Just an FYI, Westerfeld has 4 books in the series: "Uglies", "Pretties", "Specials", and "Extras".  I will absolutely be reading the rest of the series.  If it weren't for my basic rule of not reading two books in the same series back to back, I would have kept on reading for sure!  That should clue you in that I loved the book. I didn't like it a lot, I LOVED it!  For those of you who have read any of the series, I'd be hard pressed to say you would disagree with my opinion.

It is going to be hard to talk about "Uglies" without potentially confusing you or giving away some good stuff that I would rather you read on your own, so I'll do the best that I can without mentioning certain "how's, who's, and why's" it?  Good!  First off, the book takes place in the future.  Far enough into the future that many humans and their cities were destroyed years ago. (obviously I'm not telling you how!).  Although Tally does have parents near by, she lives in a dorm in Uglyville with a bunch of other "uglies", or children older than toddlers but younger than 16.  These "uglies" still look the way they have been naturally progressing through life since birth, before the "operation".  This operation takes you from your natural born looks and transforms you into a stunningly beautiful person, perfect in every way.  Everyone has the operation at 16, or at least everyone is supposed to. Tally's best friend Peris turns 16 early on in the book,  has his operation to become "pretty",  and immediately moves to New Pretty Town.  New Pretty Town is just across the river from where Tally is still living in Uglyville, but not somewhere where uglies are permitted.  She has a few more months until she turns 16 and becomes pretty.  Then she plans to join Peris for a life of partying, lots of drinking, and tons of fun.  This life lasts until they are what we would call middle age.  This stage of life is called "middle pretty".  At this point, they still are pretty, but begin to live a more normal life settling down and having children of their own etc.

While Tally is waiting for those last few months until the operation, she meets a girl named Shay who shares the same birthday as Tally. Since the two are turning pretty together soon, they start hanging out and become really close friends. They spend every day together waiting for their 16th birthday to come.  For the entire time they hang out waiting for the operation, it seems that Shay is not as excited as Tally to become pretty.  While hanging out, (remember the book is set in the future) Shay teaches Tally how to ride a hoverboard, which becomes a crucial part of the whole book as hoverboards are used quite frequently.  Just a side note, Westerfeld's future technology is really cool.  From walls in their rooms (sort of walls with closets) that will outfit you with whatever you tell it to, help you match outfits, and even show you many different combinations of what you could look like when you are pretty to bungee jackets, which can only be explained as hmm.. imagine you are jumping off of a tall building and right when you are going to "splat" into the ground, you are yanked up and bounced on an imaginary cord the same way you would be if you went bungee jumping today.  Point is, his portrayal of some future gadgets are really cool and from what I understand, there are more as the series progresses.

Getting back to the story and moving along, right before their operation, Shay tells tally of a secret small town called "The Smoke" where some people go to avoid the operation, to avoid turning pretty, and live their lives as uglies.  You are probably thinking, "why in the world would you want to do that and give up a perfect life???".  Well, that is an excellent question and one I am not going to answer!  Alright, so Shay ends up running away to "The Smoke" to live with a friend named "David" and never look back.  She begs Tally to come and tries her best to convince her that life would be better in The Smoke.  Tally does not want to go, but Shay leaves her coded directions in case she changes her mind.  The directions are in code because The Smoke is a very secretive place that the authorities, dubbed "Special Circumstances" have been trying to find for many, many years.

If you have a keen sense of plot, you might have put 1 and 1 together and figured out the next part.  Special Circumstances grabs Tally, right out of the waiting room for her "pretty" operation and tells her that they know all about Shay going to The Smoke.  They know that Tally has directions to The Smoke and they give her a choice...go there, activate a secret GPS tracker once there (by activating a rigged necklace with GPS) allowing Special Circumstances to once and for all infiltrate The Smoke, or never turn pretty. Basically, go there pretending that she changed her mind and wants to be with Shay, totally set up her friend, and blow their cover.  Tally goes.

When she finally gets to The Smoke, (and the journey is really cool, especially how she decodes the directions as she goes along, keeping in mind she travels for days and days on a hoverboard) she starts to actually like it there and feels horrible for Shay for what she plans to do. After about a month or so, Tally starts to understand the purpose of The Smoke (I'm not telling as that is a HUGE part of the whole story), starts to fall for David (not good because remember that Shay moved there for, and with convincing from David), who is an unofficial leader of The Smoke along with his parents (David has a secret about the smoke, and a clue is he did not run away to there before his operation) and decides to stay and not activate the GPS tracker.  Well, as she destroys the necklace, thinking she has made a decision for life to never go back to New Pretty town, she mistakenly triggers the tracker which had an anti destruction mechanism.

The next morning, Special Circumstances invades The Smoke, and captures everyone EXCEPT Tally and David.  I forgot to mention that right before Special Circumstances came, some people had slightly suspected Tally of being a spy.  It didn't help their opinion when she was nowhere to be seen when everyone else was captured. Keep in mind that there is a reason Special Circumstances has been trying to get to The Smoke for as long as it was established.

David and Tally decide that they have no other option but to go back to Uglyville/New Pretty Town and rescue the others.  They do make it there and end up rescuing most of those that were captured. (Don't worry, that info is not really giving anything important away). "The Smokies" as they are called, begin to slowly settle temporarily in a new area and start to rebuild their numbers as they did lose some in the whole ordeal.

What I have held back, and by giving you some sort of an idea will allow you to understand the ending of my review, is that there is a reason behind why The Smoke was formed in the first place.  It was started by a pair of Doctors (hmmm, a pair of Doctors...who could they be?) who discovered that when Uglies were made into Pretties, part of the operation included altering the minds of most of the Uglies (I'm not telling you how or why though!).  Those Doctors who started The Smoke had found out about this before they originally left the city and decided they did not want any part of this at all.  They felt they were better off living on their own in hiding as Uglies than to be subjected to the mind altering, the main purpose of the operations.  If they were to find out how to reverse this mind altering procedure, return to the city and start telling everyone what being done to them AND why it is being done is the reason Special Circumstances (the pat of the government responsible for the mind altering) has been hot on their tail for many years.  I had to tell you that part or I could never have explained the end of the first book.  I tried not to give too much away, and in the grand scheme of things, i didn't!)

So the way that Westerfeld ends the book is as follows: Shay is turned pretty. Tally, David, his mother, and the other Smokies are like I said, sort of temporarily hiding out and slowly rebuilding their numbers.  Even though Shay has turned pretty (they did it to her when she was captured, but before David and Tally could recuse them) she still stayed with the Smokies.  The doctors, or one of the two who was still alive, decided it was time to test their theory on how to reverse the mind altering.  Since Shay was the only "Pretty" there, they wanted to test it on her.  She refused as she was not fully aware of what was going on or why, besides the fact that the reversal process was not proven yet, and just a hypothesis.  Since the Smokies believe in choice, they did not force Shay to have the procedure.  The procedure needed to be done though, that was not an option.  It was time to test the reversal process, go back to the city, and blow this whole scheme open.  With Shay out of the picture and no other Pretties volunteering to get their brain worked on, there is only 1 choice the Smokies have......

The very end, the choice that the Smokies make, is basically what leads into the next book, "Pretties".  Of course I can not tell you what choice is made, but I will tell you that it is a dangerous one, and it is something I wondered whether would happen throughout the book.  Unfortunately like I said in the beginning of my review, there are many "holes" I am going to have to leave you with so that I do not give away any of the really important information.  For if I had done that, perhaps you could have started to figure things out piece by piece.

I totally loved this book, blowing through all 425 pages in 2 nights.  Please understand that I did struggle with this review as I knew it might be confusing, but at the same time I felt that for all of you it was a book that I needed to review.  It was that good.  Confusing you was a chance I had to take.  My suggestion is that if you are confused, do as I just did and read through the review a second time.  It helped me a bit and the book is definitely worth the 5 extra minutes you will spend.  They actually recently released a box set of the first 3 books in paperback and "Extras" is sold as a stand alone.  From what I understand, the original series was 3 books, and Westerfeld added "Extras" after he finished the series.  Interesting info!

I hope this made sense to you. As you guys know, when I do a review, I love to talk about the story WITHOUT giving too much away.  I am not a fan of spoilers at all!  Possibly my toughest review yet.  All I can tell you is that if you have any trust in my opinion, read this one.  If you are still a bit unsure, check "Uglies" out of the library, and if you love it (which you will), then you can go spring for the set.

A special treat for those of you who actually made it this far and read through that whole thing.  If you took my advice and re-read the review, then act surprised again when you read this part the second time around.  Basically, I am going to reward you for completing the review (notice this isn't in bigger letters, or bold print, or any way to make it stand out from the review) with some info on an upcoming event that should make you all excited.  Also, it is still in it's planning stages and not everything is finalized yet, so don't go getting too excited on us just yet.

As we have discussed many times, we are planning on re modeling our site.  Besides changing the appearance (background and header) to a more custom tailored look, we will be adding different things to the sidebars, removing some things and changing others.  As well, we will be adding at least 1 weekly post where we just chat.  It may be about books, it may not.  Right now we are thinking of calling it....well, maybe I better not say just yet.  Anyway, for this whole re-modeling event, we have decided to make a "thing" out of it.  We are going to have a "Mega" giveaway/contest to go along with it.  Right now, this is what we are working on, and we have some commitments, but not all.....first of all, there will be more than 1 winner.  The # of winners depends on how many prizes we end up with (I'll explain) and how many people enter.  We will definitely be giving away that $200 Apple Store Gift Card we have been mentioning.  We currently review books from a few different marketing firms and  for 5 major publishers. As for the publishers, who at this point I will not mention them all, we have asked them each to put together a "prize package" consisting of books and whatever else they wanted to throw in there.  So the idea would be that if we get 100% participation, which we are hoping for, we would have at least 6 prizes and at least 6 winners.  The publishers that I can say have committed to putting together a package are Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky and Scholastic.  We are awaiting response from the other 3 we asked.  I don't see why it should be a problem, but I will not confirm until I have an official "ok" from them.  Once we get that official "ok", and we get a list of what will be included in the packages, we will post it.  Then comes the revealing of the new look and the contest.  Hopefully that was a nice reward for actually reading the review.  If you comment on this review, please do not say anything referencing the contest or this last paragraph at all.  It is a thank you from us to you for reading the review and those who do not, well, they will find out later on.

Thanks guys and more reviews will be posted over the next few days so don't go far!



  1. Excellent review; I really must get a copy of Uglies and all the other books in this series. Another Scott Westerfeld book that I'm looking forward to reading is Leviathan, which is very new.

  2. Phew! What a long review! (But I read the whole thing straight. Any surprise?) ^_~ ^_~

    Well, it looks like you've convinced me. Uglies, despite it's name, sounds like a pretty good book series. I love reading about dystopia futures! I will look for this in the library right away.

    btw, just a tip: When you linked to Graham's site, I expected it to go right to his Uglies review, but it didn't. If someone has a special blog-post I want to show other people, I link to the special post, and save them the trouble of looking through the archives for the post I was talking about. Even if it's a recent one, and I think they'll find it right away. Just my advice.

    Looking forward to more reviews of yours!

  3. I absolutely loved this series. Very original. Great review.

  4. Magenta,

    In this case my intentions were not at all to direct people to Graham's review. In fact, I don't even know if he reviewed "Uglies". He mentioned it to me in an email one day when we were suggesting some books to each other.

    My intentions were actually just to have anyone who was interested take a look at his site. I know he puts a lot of really good reviews up and it was just my way of sort of thanking him. If it weren't for him, I would never have known about any of the Uglies series. Since you mentioned it, I'm going to check out his site and see if he actually reviewed it or not. I'm just curious.

    On a separate note, I'm not a big fan of sending people directly to reviews. I sent a couple to a review of a particular book on my site and a month later found out they were still going to the same page, checking for updates to the site.

    I had to explain to them that they had saved a particular review in their favorites and were not at my site's home page and therefore could not see all my content. When I corrected them and sent them to the home page, they were pleased that there was so much more to read. The reponse I received was "why did you send us that link if we can't see your whole site from there?" Granted, MOST people are familiar with how to navigate a blog site and would have known how to get back to the home page, but lets just say that I was not going to dispute that one with my parents :O)


  5. Dave,
    Thanks for putting me in my place. ^_~ It was certainly a good idea to give a shout-out to Graham (I love the guy's reviews as much as I do yours! People should check it out. Hint hint!).

    I actually didn't see an Uglies review on Graham's site in my initial sweep, though I could swear I'd heard about it before you wrote about Uglies... Oh well.

    Ha ha. Funny story. =P I guess it's okay either way, linking to the site or a specific post. Linking to the post is just my habit.

    Keep it up, Latt Gang. ^_~

  6. Hi Dave and gang. Great review (as usual). I have picked these up and put them down so many times. They do sound good, maybe I should put them on my list.

  7. Oh man... now I really have to go buy this book! What's been taking me so long? Note to self, buy Uglies, buy Farworld, buy Maze Runner, buy Catching Fire, the list never ends....

  8. Good review =)
    I had heard a lot about this book so I picked it up but I didn't really like it, too SciFi for me =)

  9. I lOved this series! I read it almost 2 years ago b/c i kept seeing a lot of teens check it out from our library and figured it must be good if it actually got them to read not just one but *gasp* 4 books! lol.
    I'm currrently on the holds list for Leviathan now, and can't wait to see what Westerfeld does there. His worldbuilding is spectacular!
    and btw, i did read ur whole reviewtoo; it was looong ;) but good- i enjoyed reading about some of the story details I'd forgotten.

  10. whew! I heard about this series from my best friend. Now I am going to have to borrow this book :)

  11. That was a very good review, it covered a lot of aspects of the book! I read the first two or three novels in the series a few years ago so I don't remember them that well. But I think the first one was my favorite. I never read "Extras", so if you do let me know!

  12. Good review! I read Uglies already so it all made sense to me. This book was just amazing. I loved the whole concept behind it.

  13. I haven't heard anything about this series but from what I gleaned from the review. It sort of sounds similar to Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World". Very similar the future,a seemingly paradisaical existence that isn't really all that great once things have been discovered. I'll have to look into it :)