This is one of several books I am reading to familiarize myself with the current environment of popular Young Adult SFF. This review is spoiler-free,This is one of several books I am reading to familiarize myself with the current environment of popular Young Adult SFF. This review is spoiler-free, and aimed at those debating whether or not to pick the book up for a read.
Uglies is an interesting book. I was intrigued by this version of post-apocalyptic Earth, and the way society operates, and how power structures maintain their dominance. I would not call in complex, but but the explanations sufficed, and are acceptable for Young Adult fiction. The world structure is definitely the book's best point.
It is also interesting to have a lead who is not automatically thoughtful and wise from the start. Most post-apocolypse heroes, such as Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games or Beatrice Prior of Divergent, employ a critical perspective to flesh out the the positives and negatives of their societies for the reader, and also to build up for their inevitable heroic rebellion. Essentially, what heroes like Katniss need is courage and incentive to make changes, but in general they always have the right perspective from the get-go.
Not so with Uglies, which makes the book a unique entry into post-apocalyptic young adult fiction. Tally, while not unlikable, is not automatically enlightened. She has some instinctual notion from the start that something is "off" about the whole Pretty process, but between her ignorance and careful social conditioning, ultimately it takes nearly half the book before she has a radical, active change in thinking about her world - to bring her to where we found Katniss at the beginning of HG. I thought this was a nice change of pace; we see a hero being built at the foundation, where most stories have already laid the foundation for you.
Westerfeld's writing style is nothing special, but pleasantly simple and clear, and while he doesn't waste time on anything, the world does not feel barren for lack of description. Also, unlike most of the modern YA genre, Uglies is told in Third Person Perspective, rather than First, which was a good choice because I am not certain I could have handled the lead, Tally, speaking with "I"; not because she is unlikable, but because she is immature for half the book.
There are two real detractions from the experience. The first was that nobody, save a few adults, seemed older than 11 or 12 years old, even though most of the major characters are between 15 and 18. I can't really explain why that is. I certainly would not have minded if this book had been written about 11-12 year olds (since that is how it felt, and it was still enjoyable), but because they are supposed to be older, and because it is necessary to the plot that they be older, something always felt off about all of their exchanges. This was not limited to Pretties, who are understandably more childish; you could definitely mark a difference between the behavior of Pretties and Uglies. Still, said "uglies" came across much younger than they were. It may be attributed to the conditions of their world, though.
The second problem is that nobody seemed to have much of personality - not enough to interest, anyway. This may have contributed to the first problem. It's not that everyone was unlikable or inhuman, but there simply wasn't much there. I wanted to know what would happen plot-wise, but I could care less about most of the character relationships in this story. I could not write a paragraph about the kind of person Tally is, or David, or Shay. A few sentences for Shay, maybe, but even then some of what I thought felt later contradicted in the story. For me, this wasn't enough to pull away from the story, but I can see how it definitely would be for other readers.
In any event, the conclusion of Uglies makes the plot of the sequel look promising. Hopefully it will step up in the weaker areas as well. ...more