Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

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Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A very well realised future dystopia provides for some excellent, pacey sci-fi for the female young reader.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Books
ISBN: 978-1847389060

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"This city is a paradise, Tally. It feeds you, educates you, keeps you safe. It makes you pretty." And that's meant literally. As soon as they're sixteen years old, ugly people like Tally are completely rebuilt - no more freckles, dull eyes, rough skin, or ideas about biting their fingernails, and made a pretty. It's scientific, and obviously of benefit, considering the parties, status and love afforded to pretties. But is it essential? When her best friend is prettified Tally finds a new friend, Shay, who has secrets to share in the few weeks before the operation they're due to have on the same day. Secrets of another place, another way, and of people staying forever ugly - through choice.

The premise - and its execution - bears all the marks of quality, old-fashioned science fiction. It looks at a society so stratified - the uglies in school dorm here, the new pretties here, older pretties in the suburbs there; so hi-tech - Shay and Tally flash around on airborne surfboard things; so alien to ours it can only, paradoxically, BE ours.

Beyond this, the book uses the heavy metaphor, ironically looking at our beauty industries and our society's responses to surface looks and impressions. The operation is almost an obvious metaphor for puberty, except that that features here in a slightly different way when 12-year old littlies are removed from their parents to be ugly elsewhere.

But from the time when Tally chooses between her pretty life and her one with Shay, this novel becomes less of a sci-fi metaphor stroke dystopian drama, but gears towards a very successful action-adventure. The flow of the story is as pacey as the hoverboards, and I can't give any examples away for want of spoiling things, but there are a lot of good sequences.

Perhaps the stand-out however is the realisation of Tally. Everything is seen through her eyes - her relationships, her fears, her progress through the book, and she comes across as a very competently created heroine - especially when remembering this is a male author working here. It's no wonder the praise for this has been loud.

Although as it started five years ago, when this first came out, it might be fading a little. I'm looking at these books only because of some new covers, which I like - a lot. But by concentrating on one benefit to the series, they hide another completely. The new montages of action and hi-tech suggest a rollercoaster riot of energy, and while there are pace and drama galore, there is also a welter of character and other things of a more feminine persuasion. These show how this book stands out as being a sci-fi action drama that girls will love - a kind of book generally counted on the thumbs of one hand.

So does it stand out in any other way? Well, for me, no, but that's not to say this is not still a quality, dramatic, compelling, intelligent sci-fi book for us all - pretty or otherwise.

I must thank the kind Simon and Schuster people for my review copy.

More chase sequences in between thoughts of identity and medical procedures can be found in Being by Kevin Brooks. You might appreciate Dark Parties by Sara Grant and The Duff: The designated ugly fat friend by Kody Keplinger.

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Buy Uglies by Scott Westerfeld at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Uglies by Scott Westerfeld at


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