Have you ever read a book as a child, then read it again years later to see if it was truly as good as in your memory ? And if so, was it as good ?
That’s what I wanted to know when I picked up Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld, and I must admit that I’m really glad that I decided to read it again.
Warning : this is going to be full of spoilers.
Uglies is the first book of a series of four, that takes place in a futuristic world where our civilization has been destroyed. In its place, individual cities stand, and the world is divided between the Uglies – people under 16 – and the Pretties – people over 16, who have undergone a chirurgical operation to make them perfect. A symmetrical face, well-defined muscles and no baby fat… and something else. Something wrong that makes the Pretties, for lack of a better word, airheaded.
Tally Youngblood, an Ugly whose only dream is to finally reach 16 and get the operation, is thrown into a world of rebellion and uncertainty when her new best friend, Shay, runs away right before her birthday. The Special Circumstances, or “Cruel Pretties” as Tally calls them in her head, want her to go looking for her friend… and lead them to the anti-operation resistance. Not a single thing goes according to Tally’s plan(s), and she finds herself lost between what she’s always been told to want – the perfect life, the happy life, the Pretty life – and what she, individually, comes to desire : freedom.
One of the main themes of this series is the absence of choice (here comes the big spoilers !) : whenever she tries to make things right, Tally always ends up with an impossible choice to make – or a non-existent one.
She learns the truth about the Pretty operation… then has no choice but to give herself up and undergo it willingly, and trust her friends to be able to reach her and try their “cure” on her. As a Pretty, she once again manages to break through her conditioning, and through the wrong in her brain… only to be captured by the Special Circumstances, and be operated on a second time – but this time, she’s made into a weapon.
Where the first two books are relatively light, with Tally’s innocence keeping her from seeing just how dark and disturbing her world is, the third one, Specials, shows everything in a different light. Her worldview is compromised, and the reader can see it from the beginning : where the Pretty operation had made her bubble-headed, the Special one made her cruel and cold. The reader can see it – but she can’t.
I absolutely love Tally Youngblood. She’s a hero who has to fight, every day, to keep her mind clear and out of anyone else’s control but her own, and that’s something I appreciate a lot : she’s saving the world, yes. But she’s also saving herself, bit by bit, and saving yourself from something (or someone) who had absolute control over your life and every one of your choices is, in my opinion, one of the most brave and strong things anyone can do. The other characters are well made, with their own stories, lives and emotions, and the world-building is amazing.
This is a series of books I would definitely recommend (and it’s not only because f the nostalgia !), and read again !
There are a lot of heavy themes that are talked about a lot in the third book, though, that I think readers should be warned about, such as scarification, severe mental illness and anorexia. From my own experience, I felt like these themes were treated well, but my experience is limited to the things I have personally been through, and is in no way meant to be universal.