The Uglies by Scott Westerfield
A lot of thoughts went through my mind while reading 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 favourite genre?
I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to let go of my self-doubt and just accept the fact that I simply don’t rate Uglies very much, 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 a bit silly, 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.
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. However, Shay doesn’t want to be a Pretty 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.
I don’t want to be so harsh and critical but this really was much worse than I had prepared myself for. What upsets me most is that, while I understand people often like things I don’t, I just don’t get the hype here. Teenagers and parents alike have written of their love for this tense thrill ride of a novel online.
Children and teenagers aren’t stupid, and I hate when fiction directed at them treats them as such. 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. When it’s done well it can resonate with all ages and can have a long-lasting cultural impact, but franchises such as the Uglies are just jumping on the ‘YA bandwagon’ rather than attempting to create decent work.
Then again, I don’t really understand the appeal of the Kardashians, selfies, One Direction, huge eyebrows, man buns and Musical.ly either. I’m getting old, grumpy and cynical, and worse of all… I don’t care.
This review is part of my 2017 Reading Challenge.