Scott Westerfield,
(Simon Pulse, 2005)

In Tally Youngblood's world, no young adult is unattractive because everyone has an operation on his or her 16th birthday; the operation makes everyone equally "pretty." The environmental crisis that threatened the planet has been resolved because everyone lives in cities, development of land outside cities is forbidden and all materials are constantly recycled into new things. Everyone has a place to live, lots of food (with calorie-purging pills to take care of the excess) and processors that supply anything anyone could want.

In Tally Youngblood's world, Special Circumstances -- an elite group responsible for the utmost security -- monitors the population through the interface rings people are required to wear. Travel outside the grid of the city is strictly forbidden; a "Pretty Committee" controls the standards for the operation so no one's appearance is too extreme; and the operation leaves lesions in the brains of the new pretties in order to keep the population passive and unquestioning.

All Tally wants is to turn 16 and become pretty. Dr. Cable, head of Special Circumstances, has other ideas. Tally befriended a girl, Shay, who subsequently ran away from the city to the Smoke, an area in the wild where people, called Smokies, live off the grid and off the land. Now Dr. Cable wants her to find Shay and the Smoke and alert Special Circumstances to their location. If Tally doesn't cooperate, her operation will be postponed indefinitely.

Tally finds the Smoke, but after spending some time with the people there, especially David, a Smokie who has lived his entire life outside the city, and his parents, former doctors from the city, she decides to stay. When she unwittingly alerts Special Circumstances, she tries to make amends, but ultimately, the only way she can help is by turning herself in and becoming pretty.

Scott Westerfield paints a chilling portrait with his utopian-seeming society, and he explores the delicate balance between freedom and security. The price exacted for living in safety and security robs the pretties of individuality and choice, including the right to make bad choices. His point gradually becomes horrifyingly clear to the reader.

He slides a bit too easily over the technology required to support and run the city, as well as how it developed since the Rusties (people from our time) nearly destroyed the world, but the details get lost in the sweep of the story. The plot-driven book is a page-turner, catching the reader up into Tally's world very quickly, even if some of the characterizations are a bit thin.

Uglies is the first of Westerfield's trilogy about Tally Youngblood, and it sets the stage for the next book. This is a story with which any teen, or anyone who remembers being a teen, can identify.

review by
Donna Scanlon

19 January 2008

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