Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

ugliesDystopian before everybody else went dystopian. Uglies has an intriguing premise, a splash of romance, and is an easy sell to fans of The Hunger Games.

Recommended grade level: 6-12

Pages: 425 (for ISBN 9780689865381)

Genre(s) and keywords: science fiction, dystopian

Tone/Style: trapped, distrustful

Pace: moderate

Topics: cosmetic surgery, oppressive government, blackmail

Themes: self-acceptance, betrayal, friendship, rebellion

Summary: Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?

Tally Youngblood is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her driver’s license; rather, 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.

Anticipating this happy transformation, Tally meets Shay, another female ugly, who shares her enjoyment of hoverboarding and risky pranks. But Shay also disdains the false values and programmed conformity of the society. She’d rather risk life on the outside and urges Tally to defect with her.

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. (Source)

Who will like this book?: I’ve had a lot of success talking this up to many kinds of readers: fans of dystopia, action, drama, and anyone who likes a creative premise. Given the success of The Hunger Games, most readers fit into one or more of these categories. Uglies does a great job making you think without proselytizing or sacrificing the juicy stuff: hoverboard chases, hidden rebels, and romantic entanglements laced with lies. I find that most middle school readers like a book that gets them thinking, as long as it doesn’t do so in a way that is boring. 

Who won’t like this book?: While it isn’t a “girly” book, some boys might think it is; Tally is not a tomboy, there’s a focus on beauty (though that is true for the men as well as the women in the book), and the romantic element becomes increasingly prevalent in the second half. A lot of kids of both genders say to me about various fantasy and sci-fi titles, “This book would be better without the romance.” Those kids might not like the direction this goes in once the love interest appears.

Other comments: I booktalked this to 7th and 8th graders, and ever since it’s been flying off the shelves. I think the conflict about becoming pretty and perfect resonates with middle schoolers, who are becoming more aware and self-conscious about their bodies.

Sequel(s): Pretties (2005); Specials (2006); Extras (2007) (Extras is related to the first three books, but is an indirect sequel.) There is also a two-volume graphic novel told from Shay’s point of view.

Readalikes: The Hunger Games, as already mentioned. Readers looking for dystopian tales involving glamour and love should try Delirium by Lauren Oliver (recommended for grades 7 and up), Matched by Ally Condie, and The Selection by Keira Cass (recommended for grades 8 and up). Those on the hunt for dystopian action and excitement should try Legend by Marie Lu or Westerfeld’s Unwind series.

-Kylie Peters

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