"Every day of her life she'd insulted other uglies and had been insulted in return. Fattie, Pig-Eyes, Boney, Zits, Freak--all the names uglies called one another, eagerly and without reserve. But equally, without exception, so that no one felt shut out by some irrelevant mischance of birth. And no one was considered to be even remotely beautiful, privileged because of a random twist in their genes. That was why they'd made everyone pretty in the first place."
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Plot Summary: Uglies begins with Tally sneaking out of her technologically advanced room to New Pretty Town to meet her best friend Peris, who had turned pretty before her. In Tally's world, once teens hit sixteen, they receive a special surgery that turns them into a default definition of pretty, morphing from Uglies to Pretties. After the surgery, they leave the Ugly dorms and move into New Pretty Town, where their only responsibility is to have fun and party. Tally sneaks into a Pretty Party disguised in a pig mask and bumps into Peris, whose beauty stuns her and they pledge once more to meet once Tally undergoes her surgery. After escaping dramatically, Tally meets another Ugly girl, Shay, and they soon become good friends despite Shay's reluctance to discuss her upcoming surgery and her belief that she isn't ugly. Before Shay's surgery on her birthday, she disappears, telling Tally that she is leaving for Smoke, a city where Uglies live free, and David, a mysterious leader. She leaves a cryptic handwritten note behind as Tally refuses to come along. When Tally's birthday finally comes, she is taken to Special Circumstances, where she meets a cruel Pretty who says she will withhold Tally's makeover unless she finds Smoke and activates a tracker that will allow Special Circumstances to hone in on their position. Tally embarks on a quest with the motive to betray her friend, all in the name of ridding herself of her horrific features and finally becoming Pretty with Peris.
Critical Evaluation: While the jargon used within the novel is often jarring and seemingly childish (Pretties, Uglies, littles), it reflects the childish world that Tally grows up in, in which teens are coddled and treated as princes and princesses in New Pretty Town. Tally as the narrator imbues all of this childishness even as she incorporates all of its beliefs regarding beauty and self-hatred of her physical appearance. The whole topic of beauty becoming attainable to all but only in the form of like-beauty, lacking individuality, is one that interests Westerfeld and is pertinent to modern society. Tally's narration could often run contrast to the beliefs of the reader, as she is so deeply steeped in her world and views anything outside of her small city as foreign and ugly. This makes her a rather unlikeable character, especially as she is willing to betray her friend Shay for her operation. However, even as readers come to dislike Tally, once she realizes that she is in the wrong and starts to see the world from Smoke's point of view, she becomes redeemed and her relationship with the readers is almost stronger than if she had had doubts from the start. For readers who may have similar thoughts to Tally, regarding beauty and self-hatred of their own appearance, they will have doubts regarding their previous thoughts after Tally lives in Smoke. Similarly, if Uglies had been written from Shay's point of view instead, it would have firstly been a very different book and secondly may not have had such a dramatic change in characters. Tally as narrator was a good choice as readers are dragged along with her as the plot zips forward, not quite unlike a hoverboard.
Reader's Annotation: Born into a world where everyone younger than sixteen is automatically Ugly, Tally can't wait until her sixteenth birthday where she will become a new, more beautiful person. Until she meets Shay, a girl who doesn't think she is ugly, a girl who flees the city rather than undergoing the surgery, and until Tally is sent after her.
Information About the Author: Scott Westerfeld is famous for writing science fiction novels for adults. Westerfeld also ghostwrites, which he describes as like "driving someone else's car really, really fast for lots of money."
Along with the Uglies trilogy, Westerfeld has also written the Midnighters, So Yesterday, Peeps, and The Last Days for young adults. Read more about Westerfeld at his website.
Genre: Science Fiction
Curriculum Ties N/A
- How does Shay's character develop throughout the novel and through the reader's perception of her? How does what happens at the end to Shay affect Tally?
- How does the city of Smoke function and how do Tally's feelings about it change throughout the novel? Is the change too rapid or do you think that it reflects the ease of adaptation that many teenagers have?
- While Westerfeld divides Pretties into multiple categories (Middle Pretties, old Pretties, and the hawkish special Pretties), there are only two categories for children and teens: littlies and Uglies. Do you think that this lack of categorization within the formative years is reflective of how society itself views children and teens?
Reading Level: Freshman+
- While this novel divides the world into Uglies and Pretties, Tally, Shay, and David, as well as the others in Smoke all shatter the categorization. Tally changes from a shallow teen with her only thoughts revolving around her operation and the limitless partying that would occur after to an adult who cares more about making amends and saving her friends, whether she receives her operation or no.
- Tally is a prime role model due to her aforementioned evolution. The theme of focusing on exterior beauty is easily applicable to readers.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation; New York Times bestseller
Westerfeld, S. (2005). Uglies. USA: Simon Pulse.