By Scott Westerfield
Published by Simon Pulse
Published by Simon Pulse
Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?
Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait. Not for her license - for turning pretty. In Tally's world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.
But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to be pretty. She'd rather risk life on the outside. 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 the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all.
The choice Tally makes changes her world forever..
Usually, my Green Room Book Habit involves something my friends haven't read before. This time it was different. Based on an informal survey of Persons Who Talked to Me About This Book (I'm capitalizing that so it seems more science-y, just go with it,) there was a target demographic for this series and they absolutely reached it. Which, I suppose, explains why I hadn't heard of it until I went on a mad hunt trying to figure out where the capitol was in The Testing since it's not revealed in the first book and I was getting annoyed trying to geographically place things. Side note: Why is it that Chicago so often seems to get to keep its name, but almost every other city in a YA Dystopia gets renamed? And then if there's adventuring from/to/near/around Chicago, there's an equal chance that things will get a vague name so you're all like SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDWEST dun dun dunnnnnn. Look, YA Authors, there's a big difference between your characters vacating Chicago and going into any of the states that border Illinois. The midwest is not the same geographically...except Nebraska and Kansas. Also, for future reference any time a YA Dystopia mentions Chicago, I'm going to assume it's actually Bolingbrook, Naperville, Highland Park, or Elgin purely to annoy Sarah. You're welcome, Sarah.
Right! The book series here. Please forgive my Midwestern Feels1 for getting a little out of hand there.
So, The Uglies and it's companion books (Pretties, Specials, and Extras) were um...a thing that happened? These books left me feeling decidedly underwhelmed. The outward message seems to be that it's much better to be yourself than feel like you have to change to get what you want. Here's the thing, though. The whole series involves people changing to get what they want and the two MCs, Tally and Aya, they change pretty constantly and get exactly what they want with a few exceptions.
I wasn't drawn in by any of these characters. I wish I cared, but by halfway through the first book I'd settled into my usual 'well, I've started this thing and now I've just gotta see it through to the end' habit. I really need to break that more often. There's so much that isn't worth my time. The pacing was decent, I'll give it that, and I do really like it when a futuristic dystopia just pulls out all the stops and flings as much scifi at its life just short of aliens. Tattoos that are basically animated gifs on your face that move in time with whatever your pulse is? Sign me up. That's like wizard pictures on your freaking skin. So awesome. A hoverboard culture that makes me think that the author spent a lot of time studying skaters in the late 90s/early 2000s? Sure, why not, but I'm pretending they're wearing vibrams instead of airwalks, that cool? Good.
There's a love triangle, of course. There's always a love triangle. I cared about this love triangle approximately as much as I've cared about oh, any other love triangle. Which is to say: not at all. I get it. Romance sells mostly because of the implication of more...intimate moments to follow. I'm glad that it sells...I think. I mean, people are allegedly buying books because of it, but frankly to me it's always gotten in the way of the story. And for a whiny, generally unlikeable, two dimensional for the sake of reader projection MC as Tally...I really didn't understand what Boy Things A and B saw in her.
The Love Triangle wasn't the biggest problem I had with this book. I really wish it was, because then this review would be simple and sweet (okay, grumpy,) and we could all move on with our lives. Now, there's going to be a spoiler here but given that this series finished being published about 8 years ago, I'm not that worried about it.
Specials, the third book, glorifies cutting. I was absolutely horrified to discover it in Pretties (the second book,) but at least MC and Boy Thing B were appropriately 'That's not a good thing we need to get them some help and stop this,' about it all. By the time the third book rolls around, the main clique of characters is known as the Cutters and it's something that features heavily as a means for these characters to "stay icy." That is: gain focus and clarity because of the pain and then use the resulting scars as a mark of status. Does the MC eventually stop cutting? Yes, she does. Now, this isn't an issue I've ever struggled with myself, but it's something that's impacted a great deal of my friends and chosen family so much that all I could think was that this was a horrible thing to be exposing teenagers to as a good way to cope. Again, yes, she stops (and allegedly so do the other Cutters,) but that seemed almost too easy. Self-medicated coping mechanisms have this way of turning into addictions. I know. Ask me how many times I've failed at quitting smoking. Tally had maybe two or three mentions of seriously wanting to cut again and then it was just done. Now, maybe Scott Westerfield saw a problem and decided to speak to people about it in his admittedly flawed attempt to accept them for who they were but...yeah this didn't read that way. Like the rest of the books in the series it would come near an issue and then just not actually deal with it or completely contradict itself however seemingly accidentally.
I can't recommend these books, but I will say this:
The most compelling character of the whole series for me is Andrew Simpson Smith. I would read an HP length series about Andrew Simpson Smith and his adventures. Given that Scott Westerfield seems to be pretty good at rewriting stories from other characters' points of view (or at least saying he's going to,) the hope of an Andrew Simpson Smith book isn't too far out of the realm of possibility. It's unlikely, but dude's personality is basically 'you guys are totally insane and I'll come along for the ride why the sh** not.' Yeah, he's got some issues as far as representation goes but dude I wanna fistbump this anthropological experiment. We'd be bros. It'd be great.
1They are pretty intense Midwestern Feels, you have to give me that. I once abandoned a trilogy in the middle of the third book because the author decided that it took three hours to get from Chicago to Milwaukee. When I say abandoned, I mean I went on twitter to vent about it, texted Sarah, and if it were a physical book would've literally thrown it across the room. Deleting things from my ipad was much less satisfying and I'm sure the file's still lurking there somewhere mocking me. And in another book series, any time 'Madison Colony' got mentioned as being an amazing hub of dairy production I would spend a lot of time rolling my eyes going 'because all Wisconsin has are cows and breweries, yes.' ...I've turned into one of those people. Someone send help.