Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” Series

A review by Claire Ramsey

“Tally smiled…. ‘I’m Tally Youngblood,’ she said. ‘Make me pretty.'”

In Tally’s world, it is just that simple. On your sixteenth birthday, you are taken to the hospital where your face is altered, made symmetrical, your cheekbones raised, your skin made forever zit-free, and your teeth forever white. And life becomes one big party in New Pretty Town. Perfect.

What is perfection? In Scott Westerfeld’s first book in the series, Uglies, the only thing Tally wants is to be pretty. It’s biology, as taught in Tally’s school. Clear skin means healthy bloodlines and a likelihood of long life; symmetry and shining large eyes, full lips — they are what Tally believes the human mind translates as “pretty.” And until she turns sixteen, she will be an ugly.

Ugly. Pretty. Special. To go with his new world, Westerfeld creates new language akin to George Orwell’s Newspeak from 1984; words like Ugly and Pretty are nouns, labels for generations of people. Tally and her fellow Uglies eat SpagBol and CurryNoods; the Pretties have “bubbly” parties. New technologies complement the new words: “Back to the Future”-style hoverboards (and yes, they DO run over water!), interface rings that “talk” with the elevators and bridges, hoverstruts that support tall buildings and floating skating rinks without all that vulnerable steel and stone. Toothbrush pills. Bungee jackets.

Westerfeld’s “Uglies” series consists of four books to date: Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras (#7 on the NY Times Bestseller List.) Tally’s story begins after the current oil-dependent world has destroyed itself. In fact, kids (or littlies) are taken on class trips to the Ruins — the Rusty Ruins — which are carefully preserved so the littlies can learn about the follies of the fallen culture. Our culture. We are the Rusties. But, as in Lois Lowry’s The Giver, the world that replaces our economic, politically-driven one is one of absolute peace, absolute control — or it seems to be. Lowry’s Jonas meets The Giver after his Ceremony of Twelve and he discovers the true history, and cost, of his pain-free life. On Tally’s sixteenth birthday, she may find out what really goes on behind the smiles, flowing champagne, and bubbliness of New Pretty Town.

Or perhaps I have already said too much. After all, room walls, interface rings, and the bridge to New Pretty Town have been known to tattle…