by Scott Westerfeld
In A Nutshell
Imagine a totally made-up world where:
- people are judged by their appearance (crazy);
- teenagers are considered ugly and awkward (never happens);
- friends help make you who you are—but sometimes also make you who they want you to be (impossible); and
- adults either don't understand what teenagers are going through or act as uncaring tyrants (fantasy).
That's the world of Uglies. Completely science fiction, right?
Well, no: Uglies may take place in a futuristic world, but many of the issues that it deals with are issues that people deal with all the time, like, "Who am I?,""Am I good-looking enough?," and "What's the deal with this growing up thing, anyway?" (Okay, that last one people mostly deal with when they're becoming adults.) And that's Uglies in a nutshell: it's about the experience of growing up and making choices and becoming yourself and managing your friendships.
Uglies takes place in a future world where everyone gets radical plastic surgery when they turn 16 in order to make them pretty. Like The Swan. Tally Youngblood can't wait to be turned pretty—until she gets involved with some rebels and encounters an entirely different way of thinking about prettiness and ugliness. And so Tally has to face a choice: rebel against the authorities, who want to make her pretty; or stick with her friends, who want to remain ugly.
Tough choice, right?
Scott Westerfeld published Uglies in 2005, and it's the first book of a series, which is why he leaves off a giant cliffhanger at the end. Westerfeld mostly writes young adult books these days, but he notes that this book was inspired by something that happened to an adult friend.
This friend moved out to Hollywood (or thereabouts—where people want to look like movie stars) and went to a dentist who was used to doing radical surgery to "fix" people's smiles. The dentist asked this "friend" (oh, come on, this is a story about yourself, Scott, right?) how much money and pain the person was willing to go through to get a perfect mouth. And that was it for Westerfeld: how much would people put up with to be pretty? What would happen to a whole society if everyone were pretty?
Uglies was named one of the best young adults books of 2006 by the American Library Association (trust them, librarians don't lie), and there's been news since 2006 about a possible movie. We only know this: if they make a movie from this book, it's going to be interesting to see if they actually hire people who aren't pretty to play the people who aren't supposed to be pretty in the book—or if they go the typical Hollywood route of pretending pretty people are ugly by giving them glasses and putting their hair in a bun.
Why Should I Care?
Because you either will be, are, or have been 16 years old—and 16-year-old Tally is going through the same stuff that you will go through, are going through, or have gone through. (Time-travelers who have skipped being 16 or clones raised in laboratories who will never be 16 probably won't get this book. Although, actually, even clones would have to be 16 at some point.)
Sure, this book takes place in the future where people get radical plastic surgery to look pretty (not like us, right?). And there are hoverboards. So Tally's experience looks different than your modern 16-year-old's experience.
But underneath that, Tally is dealing with all of the issues that 16-year-olds today deal with: she's trying to figure out who she is, but her friends and the adults around her keep trying to make her be someone different. Add "her friends don't always get along" and "a boy gets between her and her best girlfriend," and you've pretty much got the story of most of the school cafeterias in the world.
So, we think you should care about Uglies because it's all about what it's like to survive your teenage years and find your identity. Also, hoverboards.