The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld
*This post contains 4 separate reviews (Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras) for the series so scroll with caution*
YA Fiction | Sci-Fi | Dystopian
pooled ink Review:
This series is seriously one of my top favorites! I still cannot believe that they haven’t turned them into movies yet. They really should get on that. (P.S. If you’re looking for someone to cast as either Shay or Tally I 1200% volunteer!)
Some people just didn’t get into these books or felt that it didn’t live up to the hype, that’s fine. I’m just glad that I read these pre-Goodreads because I had no expectations. A friend checked it out from the school library and said she liked it so each time she finished a book she gave it to me so I could read it. I fell in love with this series, you might not feel the same way, but that’s fine. I’ll take any disagreement as a sign that we’re not brainwashed and who could be mad about that?
I first read this series in 8th grade and then five more times since then because I’m just a huge fan. I’ve decided to write a giant review for the series (broken down book by book though) rather than post four separate reviews. Basically just scroll as far as you care to read. I’ll try not to spoil anything for any of the books but at least you’ve been warned.
This is a YA Dystopian Trilogy plus a companion novel. The characters are awesome, well-written, and well-developed. The world-building makes me envious as it is full of possibility, dreams, and of course hoverboards! A place so easy to envision that it will stick in your mind for daydreams to come.
And speaking of world-building, this series captures a world where looks are so important they become regulated. In an effort to strip racism and beauty-based bullying from society and to implement equality the government and the “Pretty Committee” have set up look-based life stages every citizen undergoes. Kids are cute, so there’s no problem there, but as they age they become Uglies. Uglies while frankly ugly in comparison to the surgical beauty around them are actually natural unsculpted teens. When they reach the age of 16 they undergo an extensive surgery to become Pretty (there’s New Pretties followed by Middle Pretties, etc. for the subsequent stages of life).
It really blows your mind a bit when you read about these Ugly kids running around accepting the fact that they’re ugly only to remember that no, they’re not “ugly” they are normal and natural and unique. It’s honestly an extreme fictionalized take on what is an ever-growing facet of our society today. We’re ugly without makeup, without our hair styled, without our contact lenses, without plastic surgery, etc. We laugh about it and shrug it off when we’re in a rush forced to go to the grocery store in sweatpants and no makeup. We know we’re not pretty and we laugh but deep down we hope we aren’t seen by anyone we know. Maybe right now some people can appreciate the beauty of a natural person but as much as we tell ourselves we believe that we can’t help but look at celebrities and magazine covers and wish we could “naturally” look that “flawless.”
Westerfeld’s novels may be action-packed fiction for teens but look deeper and you’ll find that he’s calling our attention to an issue that isn’t off in the distant future, but is here now plaguing us with its inconspicuous hum in the back of our brains. I love books like this so yeah, this series won me over.
But now onto the characters!
Tally is a brave protagonist willing to sacrifice herself for her friends. In fact Tally always seems to have two motives: protect her friends, and to remain herself.
Shay is a spectacular character and with each book comes a dramatic shift in her personality. From adventurous, to jealous, to flirty fun, to cult leader, to vengeful, to commander, to friend, Shay’s life truly goes through some pivots and dips and yet the one thing that keeps her tethered is Tally’s friendship. Tally’s brain is also altered but she remains solid, strong, and loyal. Tally is a reliable heroine. Shay, however, is a fire that cannot be tamed. She’s such a dynamic character and we go on such a rollercoaster with her that she’s probably my favorite.
This series has romance in it but it’s not the focus, rather it’s simply a part of life, a complication, a motivation, a ray of hope, and a choice to be made. David and Zane are really great characters though.
The “villain” in this series? HUGE fan. Wait, that might sound weird. Uh… I think Dr. Cable is intelligent and fascinating and captivating but she’s also a crazy person who has gone way too far. I believe a good hero must have an equally worthy adversary for the story to be any good at all and this series does not disappoint!
Westerfeld truly did a good job with not only crafting a place that seems so real and so possible but all of his characters are undeniably three-dimensional and intriguing as they are catapulted into a plot with no breaks.
A chilling, exhilarating, psychological futuristic series this book will seize you by the brain and latch on until you’ve devoured each and every page as they fill you with amazement, disgust, and addicting intrigue. Uglies sets the stage, Pretties flips it upside down, Specials grounds it into the earth, and Extras issues a hopeful epilogue.
Purchase here: Uglies Series Boxed Set
Uglies (Uglies #1) by Scott Westerfeld (2005)
“Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.
But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. 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 a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally’s choice will change her world forever…”
pooled ink Review:
Uglies sets us up in perfected future that has risen after the great devastation that has destroyed much of the earth leaving behind collapsed stone and haunted steel skeletons. We follow Tally as she wakes up on just another day in her life when one risk, one slip, one decision turns everything she thought she knew inside-out. Those she trusted hold a gun to her head and those she feared give her courage and strength. In a world where everyone is ugly until their sixteenth birthday when they undergo surgery to become pretty and move across the river to live with the other pretties, serious ethics and societal norms are called into question.
Westerfeld takes the rapidly growing trend of plastic surgery that is becoming more and more commonplace in our society and pushes it a step further, a step darker. Sure, wouldn’t we all love to look gorgeous and perfect with 20/20 vision, creamy flawless skin, large luminescent eyes, and the grace of a gazelle? Duh, but everything comes with a price and how much would you be willing to sacrifice for such an offering?
The Pretty Committee gathers and decides the pretty trends for each year. A secret government force adds in their two cents in an effort to protect the cities, the people, and to keep the global devastation from happening ever again. But how much is for the greater good and how much is too much?
Tally is given a choice that is not really a choice: reveal the hidden encampment of rebels, the Smoke, or stay ugly forever. As she pushes herself to take each step and forges her way to the Smoke, which she remains unconvinced even exists, she discovers more about herself and the strength that has lied dormant within her for years.
Please, dear readers, this is a series you don’t want to miss out on.
Purchase here: Uglies
Pretties (Uglies #2) by Scott Westerfeld (2005)
“Gorgeous. Popular. Perfect.
Tally has finally become pretty. Now her looks are beyond perfect, her clothes are awesome, her boyfriend is totally hot, and she’s completely popular. It’s everything she’s ever wanted.
But beneath all the fun — the nonstop parties, the high-tech luxury, the total freedom — is a nagging sense that something’s wrong. Something important. Then a message from Tally’s ugly past arrives. Reading it, Tally remembers what’s wrong with pretty life, and the fun stops cold.
Now she has to choose between fighting to forget what she knows and fighting for her life — because the authorities don’t intend to let anyone with this information survive.”
pooled ink Review:
Pretties picks up Tally’s story as we see the dooming results of what we knew was to come. The superficial world of pretties and their endless fun fun fun is spun before our eyes leaving us both awed and revolted. But Tally is happy, she loves being a pretty, she loves her friends and then one day some freaking ugly crashes a party and triggers something in her deeply repressed memory.
From this moment on she is once again backed into a corner and used as a pawn but this time she tries to escape. Run Tally, run! And yet Dr. Cable is so good that whether she runs or not Tally’s freedom remains an illusion. In a world so high-tech and monitored did she really think she could ever just disappear? But Tally’s memories are surging back and with her surgically-bettered body she sure as heck is going to try.
More secrets are unveiled about this city she once called home and the plot races to an exhilarating climax once again leaving us breathless and dangling off the edge of a cliff. Just when we thought we had finally done something right we realize just how hopeless it all really was.
Tally will not be controlled, she will not be altered, she will not be stopped. But then what are friends for?
P.S. I will warn you that the “Pretty Speak” might try and make you bang your head on the table but despite it being a touch annoying it’s perfect because it’s vapid, silly, and ridiculous and that is exactly what the Pretties have become. Just allow yourself to sink into the story and you’ll be fine. Your mind will forgive the “Pretty Speak” if you let yourself get into character and accept it.
Purchase here: Pretties
Specials (Uglies #2) by Scott Westerfeld (2006)
“Special Circumstances”: The words have sent chills down Tally’s spine since her days as a repellent, rebellious ugly. Back then Specials were a sinister rumor — frighteningly beautiful, dangerously strong, breathtakingly fast. Ordinary pretties might live their whole lives without meeting a Special. But Tally’s never been ordinary.
And now she’s been turned into one of them: a superamped fighting machine, engineered to keep the uglies down and the pretties stupid.
The strength, the speed, and the clarity and focus of her thinking feel better than anything Tally can remember. Most of the time. One tiny corner of her heart still remembers something more.
Still, it’s easy to tune that out — until Tally’s offered a chance to stamp out the rebels of the New Smoke permanently. It all comes down to one last choice: listen to that tiny, faint heartbeat, or carry out the mission she’s programmed to complete. Either way, Tally’s world will never be the same.”
pooled ink Review:
Specials drops us mid-action where we discover the inevitable fate of Tally Youngblood. Firmly implanted into the secret government sector of guardians Tally has been forcefully recruited into a brand new clique of enforcers. They are the strongest, smartest, fiercest, adrenaline junkies on earth. They’re the Cutters. Born from the cult in Pretties they have reached new heights. They have been surgically altered to be supreme and they have become unstoppable. Ambition and intellect are dangerous to mix but mix they have and Dr. Cable will just have to watch as her pride and joy deteriorate under the one power stronger than even them, love. The stakes are higher than either of its literary predecessors and have only further to climb. The city cannot contain Tally, soon she will drag in the world.
Once more we witness the psychological and physical changes of Tally and Shay. And for a third time Tally finds herself alone and on the run. Each book contains a stretch of chapters where it’s just Tally and the nature around her where she is forced to confront new truths, experiences new revelations, and stares down the barrel of a gun with a pivotal choice to make.
Tally is confused and at war with herself but refuses more surgery, more drugs, more being controlled, fixed, or manipulated. Tally just wants to be Tally, but one cannot return to the past so instead she determines to forge forwards and create a new future. This is the epic trilogy finale we’ve all been waiting for.
Purchase here: Specials
Extras (Uglies #4) by Scott Westerfeld (2007)
“FameIt’s a few years after rebel Tally Youngblood took down the uglies/pretties/specials regime. Without those strict roles and rules, the world is in a complete cultural renaissance. “Tech-heads” flaunt their latest gadgets, “kickers” spread gossip and trends, and “surge monkeys” are hooked on extreme plastic surgery. And it’s all monitored on a bazillion different cameras. The world is like a gigantic game of “American Idol.” Whoever is getting the most buzz gets the most votes. Popularity rules.
As if being fifteen doesn’t suck enough, Aya Fuse’s rank of 451,369 is so low, she’s a total nobody. An extra. But Aya doesn’t care; she just wants to lie low with her drone, Moggle. And maybe kick a good story for herself.
Then Aya meets a clique of girls who pull crazy tricks, yet are deeply secretive of it. Aya wants desperately to kick their story, to show everyone how intensely cool the Sly Girls are. But doing so would propel her out of extra-land and into the world of fame, celebrity…and extreme danger. A world she’s not prepared for.”
pooled ink Review:
Extras is a companion novel to the Uglies series. One can read the series just as a trilogy (Uglies – Specials) or you can imagine this as book four of a saga. Extras really serves more as an epilogue to Tally’s journey. The story is set in Japan and features a different protagonist in a different culture. Tally and her crew show up of course but they are not the center of the plot for once. Rather this book offers a glimpse into the aftermath of Tally’s fateful decision at the end of Specials.
Completely fascinating and fun to read this book offers a different angle on the story of Tally Youngblood. What began as a local incident and grew into a global confrontation has left large ripples in its wake and this book zooms out to show us that.
A full length book fully submerged in the world of uglies and pretties we see how humans change and adapt. Most books end their trilogy with the good defeating evil and then roll the credits. But not Westefeld, no sir. Westerfeld goes a step further and shows how after such a massive power shift occurs the world continues to turn, time continues to fly by, and people continue to adapt. Actually, without their brains altered this book gives a serious study of insight on human nature. These people are far more familiar to us. They are varied, ambitious, status-oriented, complex, and endlessly searching for something.
If you want to just read the first three books then fine, be totally lame and do that. You don’t need Extras if you want just the typical trilogy experience. But if you want more than the rise, the middle, and the end then definitely don’t miss out on Extras.
Purchase here: Extras
Meet Scott Westerfeld!
Scott Westerfeld is a New York Times bestselling author of YA. He was born in the Texas and now lives in Sydney and New York City. In 2001, Westerfeld married fellow author Justine Larbalestier.
He is best know for the Uglies and Leviathan series, and his next book, Afterworlds, comes out September 23, 2014.