Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

Songs

"Songs remain. They last. The right song can turn an emperor into a laughingstock, can bring down dynasties. A song can last long after the events and the people in it are dust and dreams and gone. That's the power of songs."

–Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

June 18, 2006 Posted by | Quotes | Leave a comment

Uglies

UgliesUglies by Scott Westerfeld

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Imagine a society in the future where every person, at the age of sixteen, undergoes a surgery to turn them from an average-looking person (an “ugly”) into a drop-dead gorgeous, supermodel-type person (a “pretty”). It’s not too hard, really; I’ve read news stories where some teenagers receive breast augmentation surgeries from their parents for their sixteenth birthday present, and I’ve seen those makeover shows that somehow manage to turn a person’s life around just because they change the way that person looks. We’re a culture where impressions mean a lot, and physical beauty carries a lot of weight.

But to mandate it? Of course, that sounds extreme, and of course, that’s the subject of Scott Westerfeld’s novel, Uglies. Not only is the surgery mandated, but it also separates people into two separate classes. The uglies don’t consort with the pretties, and those who do by sneaking into New Pretty Town usually suffer severe punishments. Tally, the main character of the book, watches her best friend make the transition from ugly to pretty three months before she will, and after he has moved on, she becomes lonely and finds a new friend, Shay. Shay teaches her how to rebel, and how to play tricks, and she also tells her how she likes her face the way it is, and doesn’t want to change it. Tally is shocked — Shay’s too skinny, and her eyes are too far apart — but when Shay lights out for a fabled place where people run away to in order to avoid the surgery, Tally has to decide to follow her or not.

When I started the book, I was a bit leery, because a lot of the activities in the first part of the book are so juvenile. We see Tally playing pranks on people, learning how to hoverboard, sneaking around to places where she’s not supposed to be, and mooning over the pretties when she sees them. It was too teen for me, and since I would never choose to go back to that sort of thing, I started to tune it out. Luckily, Scott Westerfeld moved the focus from that sort of behavior to the heart and theme of the book, which is, of course, about the surgery, what it means, and what it means to rebel against the system. What starts as superficial turns to something much more serious, and that he mirrors that theme with the things Tally finds out about the surgery gives the story an extra layer of depth. He avoids the typical “moody teen” cliches that one sometimes finds in YA novels, and makes the characters much more adult and mature; if nothing else, the situations demand that out of the characters.

Uglies moves quickly and relentlessly, matching the pace of some of the best suspense novels. Just when things start to seem settled and routine, something else happens that gives the story an extra edge, and carries it further forward. The chapters also nearly always end at a point that makes it impossible to stop at that point, so if you’re the type of reader like me, and like to stop at a logical point in the book, then you might find yourself finishing this one in a few hours.

I have to give credit to the author for making the premise and the theme of the book much more than they first appear. A lot of the story could have been melodramatic, or overly satirical with is criticisms, but he pulls it off with a dark realism that keeps it current and believable. My only complaint is that the novel ends like much of the chapters do — right on a cliffhanger moment, urging you forward. Luckily, the other two books in the series (Pretties and Specials) have already been published, so I won’t have to wait too long to read them.

Find these books and read them. If the rest of the series is as good as the first, these might be the best books I read this year.

June 18, 2006 Posted by | Reviews, YA Fiction | 12 Comments