Sunday, May 27, 2007


I try to regularly include young adult fiction in my reading. Mostly this is because I teach English in a high school and like to keep up to date with fiction that is aimed at my students. Partly though, I read young adult fiction purely because I like it. It is often less pretentious than serious adult literature, yet at the same time it mostly doesn't flinch from facing the big issues.

In his novel Uglies, Scott Westerfeld launches head on into some pretty interesting territory. Uglies is the first installment in a trilogy set sometime in the not too distant future. In Westerfeld's vision of the future, everyone is given an operation at sixteen to turn them 'pretty'. By doing this society claims to wipe out any discrimination based on attractiveness. The new 'pretties' as they are called are then placed together in large cities where they party all night and live untroubled lives. Tally, the central character, is just about to turn sixteen. That means she is still an 'ugly'. She spends her days in a dorm with other young uglies, fantasising about her soon-to-be life as a pretty. At night she sneaks into Pretty Town to spy on the pretties.

Then she meets Shay. Tally and Shay become close friends, bonding over their shared love of pulling 'tricks' and getting up to mischief. The share a birthday which makes it even better as they'll both get the operation at the same time. As the date approaches, however, Shay begins to reveal some of her doubts about the operation to Tally. It emerges that Shay has some connections with a group who live outside the world of pretties, a group who choose to stay ugly. The night before their birthday Shay disappears to join the renegade group. Tally, desperate to turn pretty, is offered an awful choice by the authorities. She must find Shay and deliver her to them or she will never have the operation.

This situation helps develop a compelling feeling of tension in the novel. Tally goes after her friend, intending to turn her in. When she finds the outlaw group she finds some aspects of their society appealing and is torn between wanting to protect her new friends and wanting to be part of mainstream society.

Westerfeld keeps the plot moving along at a nice pace and develops some interesting relationships between characters. He also includes the obligatory cool technology, part of any good science fiction novel. In this case it is the magnetic hoverboards that people use to get around in his world. The authority figures are suitably menacing and there is a good message about valuing freedom and individuality over materialism and looks.

Uglies is the kind of novel that makes me enjoy reading young adult fiction so much. It is smart, well-written and thought provoking without being preachy or overly simplistic. I look forward to getting my hands on the rest of this trilogy.


Stephanie said...

I recently started reading YA novels since I have read such wonderful reviews on various blogs. I enjoyed Twilight and New Moon by Stephenie Meyer and just got a copy of The Book Thief from my library. I also read A Great and Terrible Beauty while on vacation recently, but found it only ok. I have seen Uglies at Target and have been tempted to buy it. Based on your review I may just have to do that.

Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus

Carl V. said...

Great review. I have been wondering about this series, as the premise sounded very intriguing and I love the covers. I too like reading YA fiction and don't even have a built in excuse...there are just some great YA and children's authors out there.

jess said...

Thanks Carl. Yes, you don't need an excuse to read YA fiction. I think I'd read it even it weren't for work.

Thanks for the recommendations Stephanie. I'll keep an eye out for those titles.