Tally can’t wait to turn sixteen and become Pretty. Sixteen is the magic number that brings a transformation from a repellant 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.
2.5 Stars (Rounded to 3)
I’ve been trying and trying to write this review for a good few days, but I’ve always scrapped it and started again. I think the main reason for this is that I partially cannot say exactly why I didn’t like this book – I just didn’t. ‘Uglies’ is a relatively popular series which a lot of people have read and many enjoyed, and I suppose that made me have higher expectations of it, but either way, this book was underwhelming. This review is going to be short, and by the time you reach my final point I think you’ll see why.
Firstly, ‘Uglies’ has a pretty typical dystopian world; in this instance, it’s a world where everyone has an operation to be turned ‘pretty’ at the age of 16. Just reading the synopsis, I was intrigued, as the way in which we define ‘pretty’ and ‘ugly’ is a topic which both interests and angers me in everyday life, so I was hoping that we would see into how our minds tend to be distorted by the idea that being pretty is of great importance. Obviously the main outlook on this society comes from the protagonist, Tally. When it comes to dystopian protagonists, I do not like them to be so adamantly against the world in which they were brought up in from the very beginning, as I feel that if you’d been raised in that society, of course you’d follow it as it’d seem like the correct thing to do. On the counter, though, I hate protagonists that are so blinded by society that they do not register the faults in their corrupt society. Dystopian protagonists have to fall in the middle to suit me, but Tally was very blatantly in the latter category. Her enthralment in the ‘pretties’ system and insistence that everyone pre-op is ‘ugly’ was believable to begin with, as she had been brought up to believe those concepts. However, we see in the book when Tally is given proof of the corruption of the system, realises some pretty sinister things about the doctors and is even shown images of people from times before the pretties op to show how diversity is the best way forwards. Instead of opening her eyes to the corruption surrounding her, Tally’s response is still “I’m ugly, and I want someone to make me pretty”, as if none of the information she is being told is actually sinking in. After a while, this got ridiculous; I spent a lot of time wondering how Tally could be involved in fighting the system if she actually still believed in its ideals. None of it seemed plausible to me.
The characters in this book were pretty poor. Tally aside, the secondary protagonist was Shay. Shay was one of the poorest best friend figures I’ve ever read about. She was incredibly petulant and always wanted her own way, regardless of the effect it would have on anyone else (not to mention her possessiveness when it came to a boy who clearly isn’t interested in her). She behaved stupidly and childishly, and caused a world of trouble for her supposed ‘best friend’; if Shay hadn’t dragged a reluctant Tally into her scheme, Tally would have obliviously become a pretty on her birthday, which I feel was probably the best thing for a person so wrapped up in the façade of the system. Of course Shay had the right idea about the pretties op being disastrous, but it felt like her motivation was all wrong – the way I saw it, Shay was more interested in the adventure of running away than the reasoning behind doing so. I felt like Tally and Shay’s friendship was incredibly forced; they had no common beliefs, Shay caused so much trouble which had huge impacts on Tally’s life, and what’s more, Shay made a rubbish friend, never listening to Tally or thinking about the consequences of what she is saying or doing. As a great deal of the story revolves around their friendship, this fell flat on its face for me. I was intrigued by David and his family, and I want to know more about their story, but beyond them, not a single other character stood out as memorable, or even worth being there to be honest, so characterisation was clearly an area where the book was significantly lacking.
My main issue with the book, however, was that it was simply boring. The first of the three parts (which are of pretty equal length) was an okay read – pretty average, nothing spectacular but definitely readable – but the second that part two began, it felt like I’d been plunged into a bore-fest. Page after page of Tally trawling through a desert, doing absolutely nothing but making long-winded observations about the tedious surroundings or talking about dehydrated spaghetti bolognese powder (which was annoyingly typed as SpagBol – Westerfeld thought it necessary that all food names should consist of two words shortened and shoved together without a space). I ended up skimming many long, irrelevant passages as it was taking me far too long to get through it. When Tally reaches her destination, things pick up a bit, and I read properly without skimming again. Heading towards the end of part two, things were slowing down a bit but were not too unbearable, but once part three began, it got excruciating again. We had to cope with Tally’s constant lying to save her neck, Shay’s bitchiness and a rushed and almost incoherent plot which I cared very little for. I began skim-reading passages once again to attempt to tackle my boredom. This book took me so much longer than it should have done to finish it, and I feel like I wasted my time. It simply failed at holding my attention for sustained periods of time, there is nothing more to it.
What I would say is that I wouldn’t write this off as a useless book; it is probably right up some people’s alley, and I can see why. It definitely didn’t do it for me though, and if I’m told that the sequels are as tedious then I’m very unlikely to continue on with this one.