The Uglies by Scott Westerfield
The Uglies is rubbish.
A lot of thoughts went through my mind while I slugged through the first book of Scott Westerfield’s dystopian YA series, such as: Maybe I’m too old. Maybe I’m too cynical. Maybe I enjoy being hateful. What is wrong with me, why can’t I enjoy such a popular series of books from my favouritest genre?
I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to let go of my self-doubt and just accept the fact that the Uglies is rubbish, despite the countless five star reviews I found for it online. I must trust my own judgement because sanity, as George Orwell rightly taught me, is not statistical.
The premise itself is ridiculous, which was confirmed to me after I tried explaining it to a colleague of mine. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future where human beings have discovered the perfect way to end war, hatred and self-loathing: by performing plastic surgery on all citizens the moment they turn sixteen so that everyone is as flawless and as beautiful as each other.
Yup, that really is the basis to the story.
What no one knows is, during these surgeries (turning people from ‘Uglies’ into ‘Pretties’) those who are not destined to have an important job such as a doctor or a government official are simultaneously given lesions to their brains to make them slightly stupid and thus easier to control.
The novel follows Tally, a girl on the verge of turning sixteen and desperate to become a Pretty. She is the youngest of her group of friends and so remains an Ugly while everyone she knows goes off to be happy and attractive in another part of the city. Lonely and bored, Tally makes friends with Shay, another friendless girl who has the same birthday as her (coincidence!). However, Shay doesn’t want to be a Pretty – shock, horror! – and plans to run away to live in the wild with a group of other runaways, remaining ugly yet free. Will Tally join Shay in the wild? Or will she fulfill her enforced dream of becoming a Pretty?
Well, obviously Tally chooses the wild (initially as a treacherous spy before learning the error of her ways). Obviously the journey to the wild is full of adventure and Hunger Games-esque dangers. Obviously she meets a guy who is hunky despite being an Ugly and falls desperately in love with him within minutes. Obviously Shay happens to be in love with the same guy. Obviously the guy prefers Tally. Obviously Tally is super smart and unique and confident and brave yet pained and anguished. Obviously every character in the novel is pointless, two-dimensional and irritating.
I don’t want to be so harsh and critical but this really was astonishingly bad – so much worse than I had prepared myself for. What upsets me most is not that this series exists or was published, but that people claim to have REALLY enjoyed it. Teenagers and parents alike have written of their love for this tense thrill ride of a novel online. They’ve never read anything so exciting that they could also identify with before, they said. It could happen too, couldn’t it? The way society is going, this is actually plausible because we’re all so fixated on looks, aren’t we? Westerfield was so spot on…
Let’s get one thing straight: teenagers aren’t stupid, so entertainment directed at them shouldn’t be either. I enjoy lots of YA-based fiction such as Skam and Degrassi and Harry Potter and Hunger Games and Easy A and the Edge of Seventeen…yeah, come to think of it I love quite a lot of fiction based in American highschools, but I’m not ashamed to admit this. When it’s done well it can resonate with all ages and can have a long-lasting cultural impact, but it perplexes me how franchises such as the Uglies can reach the popularity it has.
Then again, I don’t really understand the appeal of the Kardashians, selfies, One Direction, huge eyebrows, man buns and Musical.ly either. Where does being on trend end and having good taste begin? Can you ever have both, or is it always a coincidence if the two happen to cross over?
I’m approaching my thirties now and am starting to notice that there’s a whole new younger generation emerging that’s very different to me. Although I never wanted to be the kind of person who moaned about things they were too old to understand, I’m starting to feel like I’m becoming exactly that. Am I officially ‘past it’, or am I just mature enough to call a spade a spade no matter how popular that spade might be?
I’m rambling now, but I just wanted to let the world know that the Uglies was not only an appalling series but it took me on a horrifying identity crisis. I’m old, I’m grumpy, and worse of all…I don’t care.
This review was part of my 2017 reading challenge.