Sparrow's Reviews > Uglies

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
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's review
Jul 26, 09

bookshelves: young-adult, utopia-dystopia, punching-tour, reviewed
Recommended for: Read Graceling instead!
Read in March, 2009

I need to never run into Scott Westerfeld down a dark alley, or during a Civil War reenactment, or at Charlton Heston's house, or wherever. My deep desire not to be arrested for murder would have an epic battle with my need to reach for a weapon when I see his stupid face. In all fairness, as you see, I coughed up three stars for this book, so I will clarify that my empty threatening is really directed toward Pretties and Specials (books two and three in this series). I'm posting this review on the link for the first book in the hopes that it will inspire people to put this book on their list of books never to read. If you read this book there is the danger that you may want to continue with the series, but trust me, you really don't.

In listing what I don't like about this series, I'll start with EVERYTHING from the characters to the plot to the worldview that I imagine would inspire a story of this kind of depth and breadth of ambivalence. The premise of Uglies is that in the future when kids reach puberty, they all have mandatory plastic surgery to turn their bodies into a perfect standard of beauty based on human brain reactions to visual stimulus. Unfortunately (and this is a slight spoiler, so my apologies, but it really is an element that is pretty obvious from page one, though not clearly stated until later), when the kids are having the surgeries to make them pretty, the surgeons change their brains, too, to determine their decision-making abilities, capacity for independent thought, and even sense response. Basically, the pretty surgery makes most people stupid, unless the occupation that the government determines for them requires intelligence. So far so good - it's your basic government-takeover dystopia. Yes, kids, if you let the government give you free health care checkups, it's only a small step to the day they start chopping up your brain.

Luckily, said ugly teens (particularly our protagonist, Tally, through her bff, Shay) discover that if they flee to the wilderness, they will be able to live a life of freedom and romance. Oh, what's that? Did I say "romance"? Thanks again Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, et al. Sometimes when characters go out into the wilderness . . . I don't even know. Does the phrase "it's been done" even begin to cover my feelings on that topic? Thus begins the cat-fight between Tally and Shay that is the uniting thread of this entire series. You see, there is a wilderness boy (imagine my surprise), who is quite a catch even though he's "ugly", and there's some jealousy and betrayal and kick-ass hoverboarding. You get the idea.

Let me clarify the problems I have listed so far:

1. Suspicion of the city, using a retreat to the wild as the solution to social ills. It's a tired premise.
2. Cattiness of the female protagonist and portraying the central female character as mostly driven by her current crush and competition with other women. That is a huge pet peeve of mine.

Those, however, are small, forgivable wrongs compared to the basic disingenuousness of the moral arguments Westerfeld makes. While he on one level criticizes the idea of basing society on a hierarchy of physical looks, the characters repeatedly interact within that hierarchy, calling each other "pretty" and "ugly" at every turn and defining "pretty" people very specifically. Even the repetition of the words "ugly" and "pretty" undercuts any message Westerfeld might have against pigeonholing people. I found myself seeing people in the grocery store and evaluating whether they met the "evolutionary definition" of pretty as according to this series. It's creepy and annoying. Westerfeld can be as showy as he wants about how it is limiting to judge people based on their appearance, but I argue that he is actually encouraging that same shallow judgment if only by instruction and repetition. For example, it's like saying, "kids, don't shoplift, but here's how to shoplift if you ever want to do it. And here's a catchy shoplifting song to sing with your group of friends, who really should have a name. Hey, we could call you guys the 'shoplifting gang'! Don't shoplift, though." What's the real message there? Ultimately, the arguments of the government that requires the pretty surgeries, also, make a lot of sense in the stories. The surgeries solve anorexia, bring world peace, and save the environment. Plastic surgery sounds fun, too, and Westerfeld literally makes no compelling arguments against body alteration. At the same time, I'm left feeling that Westerfeld thinks it is a bad idea, though he is not convincing.

If Westerfeld's discussion of body image wasn't enough of a travesty, the point in this series where this backwards arguing makes me want to wipe him off the face of the planet is when he introduces cutting. By "cutting" I'm not talking about skipping school. If you are not familiar with cutting, it is a form of self-mutilation that has been growing in popularity with teenagers over the past few years (I'm going to go ahead and say it's been growing in popularity since 2006, when the book Specials was published). In Specials, our catty female protagonist and her buddies discover that by slicing up their arms, they experience a particularly satisfying high, and all of their senses are strengthened. Ultimately, they randomly decide that this is a bad idea, but Westerfeld only implies their reasoning for that decision, and again I'm left with the feeling that probably everyone should be a cutter because in the context of the story it's pretty badass. I think that was the point where I started yelling and throwing things around my house.

Unfortunately, some parts of these stories are actually engaging (not seriously engaging, but passably), and for a while I wanted to find out what happened to everyone, even while I wanted to burn the author's house down. The truly unforgivable wrongs are his wolf-in-sheep's-clothing discussions of teen body image and self-mutilation issues. His characters never develop deep self-respect or intelligent motivation for their actions, and even when their decisions seem healthy, Westerfeld makes a better argument for the unhealthy decisions. Now I realize that I didn't even talk about the uber-annoying slang language he develops for the Pretties and Specials. I'll just say that these books are not "bubbly" and leave it at that.
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Reading Progress

03/01/2009 page 60
14.12% 3 comments

Comments (showing 151-200 of 249) (249 new)

message 151: by Luiz (new)

Luiz Fabricio Thanks for saving me the trouble of reading that crap. You listed all the flaws I was afraid I would find.

Really... Thanks.

Sparrow You're welcome!

Kaitlyn I did enjoy the books. But I also really enjoyed your review :) It was very "Icy"

Sparrow Thanks!

message 155: by Anissa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anissa I loved these books, I have no idea why it seems you only liked the first. I suppose people's tastes are different - whatever floats your boat!

Sparrow Well, it was for the reasons I said in the review. But, yeah, I guess.

message 157: by Anissa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anissa Do you like other dystopian/post-apocalyptic? Like Hunger Games, Matched, Delirium, Divergent, those kind of books? Just wondering how it compares to others for you

message 158: by Sparrow (last edited Aug 16, 2012 05:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sparrow I love Hunger Games, and I really liked Divergent, but I haven't read the other two. I have a shelf for utopia/dystopia here:

message 159: by Anissa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anissa Delirium is very good but starts slow, I've never read divergent but I am starting that in a few days. Hunger games is my love and I'm excited to read matched as well! You should def read those and btw thank for the shelf!! I just became a member on here - it is awesome to know someone out there can talk about books they love with me!

message 160: by Anissa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anissa Is The host good? That caught my eye and is on my bookshelf. I absolutely despised brave new world, it was not interesting at all to me.

message 161: by Sparrow (last edited Aug 16, 2012 07:17PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sparrow Anissa wrote: "Delirium is very good but starts slow, I've never read divergent but I am starting that in a few days. Hunger games is my love and I'm excited to read matched as well! You should def read those and..."

Yep, there are lots of people on here who love dystopia. And YA dystopia, of course, is a pretty big deal. I liked Divergent a lot. I just got the second book from the library.

A lot of people haven't liked Matched or Delirium, so I kind of decided not to go there. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is really wonderful and in some ways dystopian - it's angels and demons, but they live in a sort of dystopian alternate universe. And I loved the first half of Blood Red Road, even though I didn't love the second half or the sequel as much.

message 162: by Anissa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anissa The maze runner series is SO. GOOD. At first the characters were hard to keep track of. And by he way I NEED "The Kill Order" soooooon! So excited for it cannot wait!

Sparrow Anissa wrote: "Is The host good? That caught my eye and is on my bookshelf. I absolutely despised brave new world, it was not interesting at all to me."

Well, I don't know if I could say the Host is good. It is very comforting to me, for whatever reason, but I don't know if I could say good. It is by Stephenie Meyer, you know, so probably however you feel about her would carry over to it.

Sparrow Anissa wrote: "The maze runner series is SO. GOOD. At first the characters were hard to keep track of. And by he way I NEED "The Kill Order" soooooon! So excited for it cannot wait!"

haha, yeah, I thought that book was so terrible. So so terrible.

message 165: by Anissa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anissa I have never tried to read any demon and angels books but YA is so interesting to me. I need to check those ones out, I usually like dystopian/post-apocalyptic books but John Green books are so good as well more YA I would say, but An Abundance of Katherines and will Grayson will Grayson. I am going to read the fault in our stars by him and the perks of being a wallflower not by him.

message 166: by Anissa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anissa His good is fairly good, but is sporadically random from the others The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove . I love the maze runner series but thought the characters in the second two books were treated as characters from the start but they weren't. Still one of my favorites as well.

Sparrow Huh, interesting. And it sounds like you have a lot on your reading list. Have fun!

message 168: by Anissa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anissa I have too much to read and not enough time, haha!

message 169: by Hannah (new)

Hannah All of the books were fantastic, this bitch doesn't know Wtf she's talking about.

Sparrow Oh snap!

message 171: by [deleted user] (new)

She schooled you good, Sparrow!

Sparrow Luckily, my bitchiness protects me from having feelings.

message 173: by Sydney (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sydney girl u r STRAIGHT TRIPPIN!!!!!!!! i was obsessed with these books...all of them!! and i think i almost died when he decided to write a fourth!!!! if i were u i would re-read girl cause u r must be missing something

Sparrow awesome.

message 175: by Baylee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Baylee Duncan i dont consider his books "awesome" but they are all right i would give them 3 to 4 stars

Sparrow You are very generous.

message 177: by Baylee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Baylee Duncan well of course i am. calling me rude is like saying pennguins fly.

message 178: by Miriam (new)


message 179: by Louise (new)

Louise Wilkes Best. Review. Ever!

Sparrow haha! Thanks!

Heather I have finished Uglies and Pretties in the past two days and started on Specials only because I already bought it on my kindle. But THANK YOU for verbalizing everything I didn't like about these books. I think it's a great, original idea but done poorly, even more so when I got to the Cutters.

Sparrow Ugh, the cutters! And there are so many good books out there. I hope you can get this out of your system soon.


message 183: by Maybelle (new) - added it

Maybelle Chase but i like it!! it's good, u know!

Sparrow ha. No, I don't really know.

message 185: by Maybelle (new) - added it

Maybelle Chase u should! i'm kidding... it's mediocre, anyway. not the best.

message 186: by Selina (new) - rated it 3 stars

Selina Churchill Great review took the words from my keyboard. I wanted to like this book but it was done so cackhandedly that I nearly didn't finish it. Save yourselves the read, people!

Sparrow Thanks!

message 188: by Maybelle (new) - added it

Maybelle Chase yes well... i guess it's not so good!

Sparrow Nope. Not so good.

message 190: by Amelia (new) - rated it 2 stars

Amelia finally a truthful, open minded opinion. thank you :)

Sparrow Thanks!

message 192: by Maybelle (new) - added it

Maybelle Chase haha! well, its not my favorite, so i believe u this time!

message 193: by Léna (new)

Léna Never read this book but holy crap, your review was an amazing read!

Sparrow Thanks!

Heather I love it!!! All of the books even Extras!!! I recommend everyone read it!!!!!!! I want a Flash Tattoo NOW!!! LOL There are some really neat concepts in this book series.

Sparrow Good for you. !!!!!

Heather Yes I know right! :)

message 198: by Shereen (new)

Shereen Rayle OMG - thank you for this honest review. I only read the 2nd book, on a recommendation from a friend, and I HATED IT. I wondered if I was just being critical or if it really just sucked. I was debating buying the series for a friend's daughter, but I'm think I'll go with something else now :)

Sparrow Thank you! Yes, there are MUCH better books out there.

message 200: by Jackie (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jackie I despise your review. The Uglies series is AMAZING, and if you cannot see that, you are truly blind. First of all, the main character IS NOT catty or whatever else you decided to call her. She is torn. In today's world, it would be like having to choose between betraying your best friend or giving up technology for the rest of your life. Unbearable, unthinkable, unacceptable. Tally did what she thought was the only choice. As for the "pretty" and "ugly" word usage, that only ADDS to the message being sent by Westerfeld! He is eccentruating the fact that this is a BAD thing, and, well, if you can't see that, I am utterly sorry. Lastly, I want to bring to your awarness that this book is targeted for mid-teens. I should hope that we all know the wrongness of cutting by now, and I believe it is a neccesary addition to the storyline, and without it, we would not understand the full morbidity of the cutters. I apologize for smashing your review, but I feel it fails to capture the wonderful essense of Uglies.

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