Ok, confession time! I love teen fiction. Yep I’m at least 6 years too old for it, but in my defence it’s having a real moment just now. Young Adult is where it is at, and I’m still a young adult, right? And with the success of The Hunger Games, ‘teen horror’ is officially over and ‘teen dystopian futures’ is the new buzz. I love a bit of sci-fi, particularly when there’s a bit of a feminist leaning (The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is one of my very favourite books) so I was keen to try out the Uglies Quartet by Scott Westerfeld. Like The Hunger Games, Uglies features a feisty female lead who starts a revolution and will be soon receiving the Hollywood treatment. This review is just the first book, I haven’t started on the next three (Pretties, Specials and Extras) just yet.
Tally Youngblood is just about to turn 16, and in her world, that means shaking off her ‘ugly’ persona to become a ‘pretty’, a conventional beauty, through some fairly hefty surgery. Tally cannot wait to change until she meets Shay, who’s not entirely convinced. When Shay runs away, Tally must make the decision to either turn her friend in to the menacing authorities or to never turn pretty at all. Soon, Tally is thrust into an unknown world where she learns some very ugly truths about the seemingly idyllic world of the pretties.
This is a well-paced and engaging introduction to the Uglies Quartet. Tally’s world is well set-up but leaves you asking questions – ideal for the first in a quartet. There is plenty of drama, friendships, romance and a sudden but inevitable betrayal that will keep you turning the pages and Tally is an endearing, if slightly frustrating protagonist.
Sure, there are some moments that are a bit heavy handed, the romance storyline for one – showing that the right boy will love you even if you are ugly – but there are also some moments of real insight.Uglies applies the principle of reductio ad absurdum to the modern-day beauty myth and shows it’s readership (teen girls) how ridiculous this is. I would have prefered ***warning – spoiler alert*** that Tally had not found out that there was some lobotomising going on, as I think that the book could have been stronger just by looking at conformity, conventions and expectations of beauty without the forced element to it, but I admit that, for a teen novel, this lends a more urgent, dramatic element.
I think that this book is definitely worth reading before the film lands, especially if you already liked The Hunger Games (I feel bound to point out that the Uglies books predate Suzanne Collins’ offering) and after all, it will probably only take you a weekend. I can’t say if I’ll read the rest of the books. I enjoyed Uglies but the fact that I didn’t immediately download Pretties might tell you that it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. However, I did start a re-read of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and buy Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter, so for me, Uglies has some interesting ideas and inspires the inner feminist in me, and hopefully some of the teens who this book is for.