I’m excited to share a review of a recent reread series: the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. I read book one for a book club and continued through the second and third book to finish Tally’s story. I did not reread book 4 (Extras) because it didn’t grab my attention. It’s actually not about Tally but does take place in the Uglies universe. Perhaps I will come back to it another time. For now, I enjoyed the trilogy and couldn’t believe all the details I have forgotten! It was like reading them for the first time.
- This series is one of the originals in the YA dystopian genre. First published in the early 2000s, this series seems to have everything in this genre: a new community set up after a big war, unlikely teenage heroes, a love triangle, and tons of crazy twists.
- Why doesn’t this series have any movie adaptations? Again, it could fit right in with the Twilight and Divergent movies. I actually have seem rumors about it being in production as a Netflix produced feature film. So Tally’s story may be finally adapted for the big screen!
According to Goodreads, “Uglies: Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun. But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. 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 a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally’s choice will change her world forever….
Pretties: Tally has finally become pretty. . . . It’s everything she’s ever wanted. But beneath all the fun — the nonstop parties, the high-tech luxury, the total freedom — is a nagging sense that something’s wrong. Something important. Then a message from Tally’s ugly past arrives. Reading it, Tally remembers what’s wrong with pretty life, and the fun stops cold. Now she has to choose between fighting to forget what she knows and fighting for her life — because the authorities don’t intend to let anyone with this information survive.
Specials: “Special Circumstances”: The words have sent chills down Tally’s spine since her days as a repellent, rebellious ugly. . . . And now she’s been turned into one of them. . . . The strength, the speed, and the clarity and focus of her thinking feel better than anything Tally can remember. Most of the time. One tiny corner of her heart still remembers something more. Still, it’s easy to tune that out — until Tally’s offered a chance to stamp out the rebels of the New Smoke permanently. It all comes down to one last choice: listen to that tiny, faint heartbeat, or carry out the mission she’s programmed to complete. Either way, Tally’s world will never be the same.“
The post-apocalyptic setting was fascinating. The world is very organized and everyone just goes along with what they are told. The operation makes you “pretty” which is basically the same look and before then everyone is “ugly” because they aren’t the same. Cities supply everything. The wild is primitive and strange. Making your own food, clothes, and buildings is so foreign to Tally. She never sees books in the city. She learns only what the city wants her to. And several times she forgets what it’s like to be outside of cities. The novels take us back and forth between Tally’s home city and the wild.
The contrast between the city and the wild is ongoing and intriguing. Everything is planned for you in the city and you don’t have to work very hard. In the wild and in the Smoke, everything must be worked for and built from nothing. People just go along with what they’re told and are even programmed to respond in certain ways in the city. In the Smoke, you can be individual, think differently, and celebrate “ugliness” It’s interesting how strongly Tally reacts to the people in the Smoke at first. How their old ugliness and different ways surprise her so much. And then she is surprised again when she gets used to them. When she is Pretty, Tally forgets the wild or at least remembers it differently. Her experience with Andrew in the second book shows the dangers and intensity of the wild again. Then in book three she travels the wild in another new way– as a Special and she seems stronger than the wild. Yet in each book, the chaos and choice of the wild are more desirable for Tally than the strict, mind altering reality of the cities. It doesn’t matter what her minds says, she finds herself again and again.
Tally is an interesting protagonist because she doesn’t aspire to be a hero. She begins the novel completely bought into her future as a pretty and wants to get there ASAP. Shay changes everything when she runs away and Tally is forced to go after her. I liked how Tally changes. How she grows and learns and works hard and finds more meaning in her life. I like how willing she is to sacrifice for those she loves. Her initial relationship with David is strong and passionate. It seems to represent her life out in the wild. It is a stark contrast from life in the city. I admire the way Tally is all in where ever her life leads her. She is willing to sacrifice for those she loves, whatever the cost. Tally goes on an interesting journey in the second book. She is already different than her Uglies self. And yet she comes back to fighting for her right to choose and to keep her brain. I enjoyed her growing relationship with Zane and how they build each other up and work together to escape their city. Their loyalty is really inspiring. Then in the third book, Tally gets everything that comes with being a special. But it’s still not enough for her. She still wants to choose, to love, to be herself.
It was so interesting to read the full series back to back to see the progress both in body and mind from ugly to pretty to special. That progression offers some intriguing ideas about identity, purpose, and relationships. Uglies only build relationships to help look to the future. They are obsessed with crossing the river and rarely look back once they do. Pretties are programmed to have fun and not think about the consequences. Specials break the rules. They are above the law. They are weapons and pretty scary. And everyone needs a cure. Their need for a cure is even more interesting than the pretties or uglies. Uglies need a cure to understand that being unique is okay. The pretties cure is to have a choice and decide who you want to be. The specials cure to is to return to humanity and find connection again. Such beautiful themes throughout the series focused on friendship, love, identity and the importance of choice.
Overall, what a crazy ride to read all these books so closely together! The action is intense and full of unexpected twists. The characters are complex and intriguing. And the themes make you think deeply, much like the cures for the people in these stories. I would definitely categorize these books as YA. There are some intense scenes and characters especially in Specials that are not for a younger audience. Overall, the ending gives satisfying closure for Tally’s character and gives us hope for the future of her world. I enjoyed these!
What are some of your favorite YA dystopian series?
And Uglies fans out there? What do you love about these books?