Study Guide

Uglies

By Scott Westerfeld

Uglies Introduction

Imagine a totally made-up world where:

  1. people are judged by their appearance (crazy); 
  2. teenagers are considered ugly and awkward (never happens); 
  3. friends help make you who you are—but sometimes also make you who they want you to be (impossible); and
  4. 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.

What is Uglies About and 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.

Uglies Resources

Websites

Scott Westerfeld's Website
Westerfeld blogs about things (which would be a terrible name for a book, but makes a pretty interesting website). Most interesting current news: the character Shay has her own graphic novel now.

Breaking Down the System
Scott Westerfeld discusses why apocalyptic scenarios make for good books for teenagers, both in the New York Times and on a science fiction blog.

Two Questions for Scott Westerfeld
This Simon & Schuster website looks like it's about to fall down, but in it, Westerfeld answers two interesting questions: what has inspired him; and what does he think teens today have to deal with.

Movie or TV Productions

Possible Uglies movie
There's been talk of an Uglies movie, but it's not yet definite. Which means that there's plenty of "who should play this character?" talk going on.

Articles and Interviews

Scott Westerfeld on Uglies
Westerfeld gives a very focused interview on his website about the Uglies book and series, which includes the advice to only get minor piercings when you're young. (Maybe just stick with your ears.)

Scott Westerfeld on All His Works
This interview covers a lot of area, but Westerfeld still gets in a few good notes on Uglies and writing for teens more generally. (Like, he pays attention to the language in his younger books since he thinks teens are more attentive to language and slang. Take that, adults who always complain about teenage mumbling.)

Scott Westerfeld on Uglies: Shay's Story
Westerfeld's most recent work is a version of the Uglies series from Shay's POV and in graphic novel form. Amazingly, there are practically no spoilers here for later books in the series, so read to see what Westerfeld thinks about Shay vs. Tally.

Video

Interview with Scott Westerfeld
Westerfeld answers a range of fan-offered questions. Check it out to find out Westerfeld's feelings on blogging, Tweeting, and writing books from different POVs.

Westerfeld on His Steampunk Books
Wait, what's steampunk? Westerfeld explains all about steampunk and books with illustrations when he talks about his newer Leviathan book series.

Book Trailer for Uglies: Shay's Story
Uglies didn't get a book trailer when it came out, but at least Westerfeld's new Uglies: Shay's Story does.

"Number 12 Looks Just Like You"
A classic 1964 episode of Twilight Zone, where people get surgery to look like one of several approved models. Here's a video of the main surgeon trying to convince a young girl to get the surgery. It's all about inequality and injustice, which sounds awfully familiar.

Audio

Westerfeld and the Apocalypse
Westerfeld comes on toward the end of this radio show, though the other authors have interesting things to say about apocalyptic fiction. Westerfeld talks about the inspiration for this work (plastic surgery) and the reaction to this book (people writing letters to him saying that they're skipping plastic surgery). (You can hear just Westerfeld here.)

Scott Westerfeld Speaks
This interview talks a lot about Westerfeld's recent steampunk books, but he also gets in some nice comments on writing in general.

Images

Scott Westerfeld
Lookin' good!

Uglies Cover
Check out those perfect eyes!

Uglies Cover
We're fans of this creepy UK cover.

Uglies Cover
Hey Italiano!

Uglies Cover
Action packed!