So when I was in the library a couple of weeks ago and noticed this sitting casually on a magazine table, I was surprised to find myself already picking up the book and walking to the self-service borrow machines (really sad, but true I'm afraid). Why did it take so long to pick this book up?!
Synopsis: Tally lives in a world where when every teenager turns 16, they have the chance to undergo an operation to become a Pretty and then they can go to the glamourous party districts of New Pretty Town. Until then, under 16's are considered Uglies and live in dorms in the dull Uglyville. This way everyone is pretty and Tally most of all can't wait the few weeks until her 16th birthday. However, Tally's friend, Shay isn't sure she wants to be pretty and when she runs away the day before the operation, Tally starts to learn the other side to the idea of being Pretty and is forced to make a choice between not turning Pretty ever or turning her friend in which has drastic consequences.
Review: The stark reality of this novel is that I can totally see this happening in the future. A world where cosmetic surgery is something sort after and more acceptable than individuality - heck, what happened to the time when being a hippy or 'indie kid' was the 'in' thing? Now, being blonde, gorgeous and preferably a Hollister/Abercombie & Fitch/Jack Wills/Gilly Hicks model/sales assistant is the ideal (I have nothing against these brands, just a little cynical of them) and the coolness of being a geek or just plain different is starting to wear off gradually leaving us with this idea that EVERYONE has to be Pretty otherwise, well, you're ugly and insignificant. For the record, I fall in to none of the above categories - I am a brunette with temperamental hair, working in a bookshop in an unflattering Christmas shapeless t-shirt and jeans and the idea of the perfect outfit is a vintage inspired one looking like I just stepped out of either The Great Gatsby or Hairspray. I think that says it all, right?
On terms of the novel, the life of being a teenager does transpire a lot to this story and it is clear that Westerfeld has used teenager's experiences and thoughts on image and fashion in Uglies. This is a book about cosmetic surgery and the effects of this in the future, but most of all, this is a book of self-image and how we should think of ourselves. He totally rocked that.
The world, as well as having this uncomfortable familiar quality, also has this mystery and intrigue of this place where it is never too explicit when this is set into our future. The Rusties that are referred to throughout as this mystic, exotic and freakish tribe are so so similar to us yet centuries old to Tally and the other characters in the story. There are almost myths or legends told throughout of the demise of the Rusties such as a bug infecting the remaining oil which is so vital in most industries, therefore, this created drastic and tragic consequences. This mystery added this rather depressing thought that this is an idea of an event that could happen any day now.
This is such a simple idea that Westerfeld has created but while being entertaining and engaging on one level, it is also a comment on some of the major problems with today's society, such as cosmetic surgery or the over use of oil. Although the novel was written in 2005, six years ago, the problems Westerfeld addressed still ring true with no real change. However, while these themes are never explicitly spelled out, they are shown and hinted at in a subtle yet simple way that makes it much more interesting to read.
This book is clever, very in fact. However, it is far from perfect for me, although I did thoroughly enjoy it. For starters, the 3rd person narrative made me feel very detached from Tally which in turn made me not feel sympathy or connection all together with Tally. It described her emotions, yes, but I didn't really get to see her - she comes across desperate and selfish to start with but ends very differently. Secondly, some events that happened seemed to have been added purely to move the narrative along. I know technically this happens in all books, but I felt that it could have been done in a more subtle way perhaps. I just felt conscious at times about events being added to merely move the narrative along.
Partly linking to that, I felt Tally trusted David WAY too easily. Here is a guy who is outside of the city borders she knows, part of the reason for Shay running away and she trusts him practically straight away, unlike the other characters there. She has JUST met him. The romance also I felt moved too quickly and due to the third person narrative, I didn't see it coming from Tally's side, which disappointed me slightly.
Lastly, Shay MAJORLY annoyed me. She....oh, it's hard to explain. She is so demanding!
Before thinking the idea that this book seems really really good but isn't, stop. This book has it's faults as many other books do, however, I enjoyed it immensely and the fact it was in the New York Times Bestseller's list for weeks and weeks - others must have enjoyed it too.
The cliffhangers and mystery behind the characters and world move this story along and the parts that keep you the most engrossed. This is one of the, for me, original modern dystopians and I could see a lot of similarities to other dystopians such as Matched or even The Hunger Games. Even if I am still not gripping you, just to read this book for the beginning and end is worth it. THE END - ah! SUCH a major cliffhanger that it was one of those moments where I'm flicking through the pages desperately looking for the rest.
In simple terms? This book is worth a read, especially for dystopian fans, but the things that make this book so clever and original is not the characters like most, but the world, the beginning and end and most of all, Westerfeld's comment to our world showing 'Guys, this is what our world could be like'.
I am now stalking down the next book in the series, Pretties - why did it take so long?
I give it a 4 out of 5
Author's Website: http://scottwesterfeld.com/
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
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