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June 4, 2013 / ljbradburn-Smith

U.G.L.Y

Dictionary definition: Character is what one is; reputation is what one is thought to be by others.

Uglies

I heard about Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld, from my fellow dystopian-loving bloggers (thanks guys) so thought I would give it a go. When my brand-spanking new copy arrived, on my doorstep, and I saw that it made reference to being written before The Hunger Games, on the front cover, I was a bit annoyed. Don’t get me wrong I love The Hunger Games but I don’t really like it when people/things are compared to others, in order to look good. It’s sort of like the book equivalent of Tesco’s slagging off Sainsbury’s to get more customers or getting bought drinks just because your friend is really pretty. But then I thought what do I care, remembered that I have accepted rather a lot of drinks because my friends are pretty, ripped off the cover (it hurts to even joke!) and gave it good old read and I wasn’t disappointed.

The basic premise, of the novel, is that up until the age of 16 everyone, in protagonist Tally’s society, is referred to as an Ugly. ‘Uglies’ are confined to their own village, on the outskirts of Pretty Town, where they can look over at the plastic ‘beauty’ of the post-16 year old ‘Pretties’ who have undergone an operation to transform them in to ‘perfect’ versions of their former selves. The Uglies have a curfew, rules and are encouraged to call each other by derogatory nicknames, whilst the pretty clones are allowed to stay up until all hours, having fun, and only have to worry about being invited to too many parties on the same night.

We learn that Uglies are brought up to admire the Pretties and to aspire to be like them. They are encouraged to scrutinize and ridicule any unique features, that they have, whilst waiting to achieve the ultimate goal of turning pretty, and being blessed with the big vulnerable eyes and symmetrical proportions, just like everyone else has, in the high-tech wonderland that is Pretty Town.  The Uglies are even provided with computer programs which they can load their images on to in order to morph their features in to what they will look like when they turn ‘Pretty’.

The inevitable rebellion (true to the dystopian genre) comes in the form of Tally’s friend Shay, who escapes, one night, to a place called ‘The Smoke’ leaving Tally cryptic instructions to join her. Tally’s decision turns out to be a lot more complicated than Shay anticipated though, with the overwhelming temptation of Pretty Town coupled with the frightening power of the Pretties, from ‘Special Circumstances’, proving difficult for her, to shake.

I instantly liked Westerfeld’s style of writing, it is an easygoing  (partly due to it being a Young Adult novel) but this doesn’t take away from his clever storytelling, symbolism and  interesting character development. A point, in the novel, that sticks in my mind is when Westerfeld writes about a pig mask, that Tally uses as a disguise, when she sneaks in to Pretty Town. The impression he created, of the Pretties, through his use of the animal masks, that they were wearing, and in particular his focus on using the symbol of the pig, was one of greed, dirt, animalistic behaviour and the cold control of a government with the power and inclination to spend time ridiculing the people it rules. It sent a chill running down my spine.

Throughout the whole novel Westerfeld continues to expose things that are considered beautiful as dangerous, cruel and sinister. His description of the orchids, aesthetically pleasing and seemingly so innocuous, choking the life out of the land, warns of the danger of judging things purely by how they look.

Strangely, considering that the title should have prepared me, for the first few pages of the novel I found the constant use of the words ‘pretty’ and ‘ugly’ annoying. There was something mildly disgusting  about reading them over and over again and I was confused at why I found these obvious words unsettling. It didn’t take me long though to appreciate that this is exactly Westerfeld’s point and that he wanted to get a response from his readers by playing on our desire to reject these terms, in order of more favourable descriptions, and the fact that everyone would like to think that they judge people purely on personality, but that if they were brutally honest looks are not escapable and our society’s idea of beauty influences even the best of us, in one way or another.

Whilst Westerfeld’s dislike for this element of our culture is perhaps not unique it is interesting and just because it has been said before does not make it less relevant or poignant. In fact, that it has been said before just serves of a reminder about the sad reality that we face of becoming so obsessed with our image and the trivial parts of life that we don’t see what is happening in our back gardens, let alone our world, because we literally can’t see past our own noses.

Overall the Uglies is a great read. It is fast-paced, sinister and Westerfeld is perceptive in the way that he explores the issues teenagers face, as they struggle to make decisions in their life about who to trust and who they want to be.

Never has the phrase smoke and mirrors made so much sense 😉

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5 Comments

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  1. John W. Howell / Jun 4 2013 12:51 pm

    Thank you for the visit. I really liked your in depth review of Uglies. I am now a follower

    • ljbradburn / Jun 5 2013 7:57 am

      Thanks very much 🙂 You are very welcome, I look forward to reading more of your stuff!

  2. storytimewithbuffy / Jun 4 2013 12:53 pm

    I really loved this book. Scott Westerfield is an excellent author. I feel the same way that you do in that I hate it when people put down other works to make themselves look better. I find that in reading a lot of writing blogs people write things like “I’m writing a novel about vampires. But mine don’t sparkle.” It really strikes a chord with me as it seems very unsportsmanlike. An author’s work should be able to stand on its own.

    Scott Westerfield seems like a decent dude, from what I can tell from reading his blog, so I’m sure that’s a marketing technique from his publisher and not from him.

    Are you planning on reading the others in that series?

    • ljbradburn / Jun 4 2013 1:01 pm

      Yeah that’s what I thought too and it’s quite sad because the book is fantastic and doesn’t need to be compared to anything else! I will definately be giving the others a go, have you read them? What do you think of them? oooo I didn’t know he had a blog, I will have to check it out, thanks 🙂 x

      • storytimewithbuffy / Jun 4 2013 5:24 pm

        I’ve read the others and they’re pretty good. I thought that the first one was the best, though. My favourite books of his are the series that begins with Leviathan. Those are really steampunky and fun.

        Definitely check out his blog. He seems like an interesting guy. 🙂

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