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on 10 April 2010
I'm a big believer in the importance of writing objective reviews, but I'd like to start this one with a confession: I love Uglies. I loved it the first time I read it, three years ago, and I've loved it each of the six or seven times I've reread it since. It's a vivid, relevant and exhilarating dystopia which somehow manages to be thought-provoking and wicked good fun at the same time. It's official: I'm an Uglies fangirl.

First up, there's the fascinating premise. Scott Westerfeld has created a vision of the future which addresses issues about self-perception that today's teens commonly face, and gives us food for thought about our own society. In Tally's world, anyone under sixteen has had it drummed into them that before surgery they're all ugly, since being pretty is really a matter of conforming to mathematical ideals like perfect symmetry which we're programmed to seek out in others for the good of the species. Genetic traits are viewed as the cause of all injustice in archaic societies like that of the 'Rusties' (that's us), but the leaders of Tally's society say that human beings can't help it - it's hard-wired into our brains. So instead of trying to build a more enlightened society, they decided to turn everyone into the model of wide-eyed, clear-skinned beauty that everyone else would naturally adore. To Tally, who's been raised on stories about the horror of Rusty society, this sounds like progress. Her world doesn't have wars, the people are happy, and besides - who wouldn't want to be pretty?

In addition, Uglies has some of the most outstanding world-building I've encountered in a YA dystopia. It's detailed and thorough, with the kind of wish-fulfilment technology that'll make gadget enthusiasts green with envy. Take transport: since the Rusties' civilisation ended when a manmade virus destroyed the world's oil, cars are no longer an option in Tally's time. So she and her friends get around using solar powered hoverboards, wearing magnetic 'crash bracelets' to stop them smashing themselves up when they take a spill. Aside from technology, Uglies also contains some highly infectious slang and an intriguing rebel society in the form of the Smokies - who, unlike the city-dwellers, horrify Tally at first by eating meat and killing trees for firewood.

But my absolute favourite thing about Uglies is the characters. Tally Youngblood is a product of her society, and a result she's a far cry from most of the MCs you'll meet in YA dystopia. She doesn't start out with unshakeable integrity or the ability to see through her society's ideals. She initially follows Shay to secure her own pretty future, and so her inner journey in this book is very much about becoming her own person and learning to take responsibility for her actions. The initial friendship between Tally and Shay becomes gradually more complex as the story unfolds and they become caught up in a love triangle with the legendary David, making for some interesting conflict and setting the tone for the rest of the series. In Uglies we also meet the chilling Dr Cable, head of Special Circumstances (think secret police) who illustrates that there's a fine line between pretty perfect and pretty terrifying. It's the first in a series where the relationships between characters can often be ambiguous and complicated, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions about some difficult moral grey areas.

As Uglies is the first book in a series, I have to warn potential readers that it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. I have mixed feelings about this, as with a more satisfying ending Uglies could have made a brilliant standalone novel. Much as I love it, I can't help but think that some of the impact of Uglies was sacrificed to set up the rest of the trilogy. However, my repeated rereading of this one is evidence that this is by no means a deal-breaker. The first time I read it, I found myself staring at the last page, utterly bereft, for the entire thirty seconds it took me to decide that I was heading straight out to the bookstore to get myself a copy of book two. Luckily, the whole series has now been published, so there's no need for an agonising wait between instalments. I'd recommend Uglies to all fans of YA dystopia, particularly those who are looking for an immersive read with substance. This one has 'modern YA classic' written all over it.
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on 21 January 2011
This is one of those books you originally find in your library, that doesn't seem to have been read a lot and you pick it on a whim, thinking "Why not? Doesn't look bad" but you think you'll forget it a week after you read it.
This is NOT one of those books. After returning it I bought it, and the next in the series too - it's thrilling and questions whether beauty is under our control, whether it's our choice how we look or if we should all look and think the same.

It is set in the future, and our generation are regarded as stupid and responsible for almost wiping the human species out. Everyone is given an operation on their sixteen birthday to turn into a Pretty - and this is where their life begins. Everyone is born Ugly - which is like the normal person for us - and they turn into Pretties - think pretty supermodels but with normal sized bodies. Tally wishes to become Pretty. . . however, Shay, her new friend, tries to encourage her to run away. . .

You should give this book a try, and for those who think it's girly and dull, it's not - it's actually quite thrilling.
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VINE VOICEon 4 April 2011
I picked this up based on dozens of recommendations from friends and people on the internet, and it's one of the best YA Dystopian Novels I've ever read (and I've read a lot!).

Uglies, the first in a quartet of books, is set in a fairly distant future, after some cataclysm destroys the world in which we modern day people (referred to as Rusties in the book) live. The world is now split into many smaller cities, in which people are segregated according to their age: until you are 11, you are a "littlie" and live with your parents; from 12 to 15 you are an "ugly" and live in a dorm with other young teenagers; and from 16 onwards you are a "pretty" (new, middle, or late depending on your age) and live with other pretties.

The protagonist is Tally Youngblood, who has just lost her best friend because he turned 16 a few months before she did, and thus has already had the prettifying operation and been moved into New Pretty Town. Tally has been left behind in Uglyville, but she soon makes a new friend (Shay), who happens to have the exact same birthday as Tally. This initially fills both girls with excitement, as it means neither will be left behind. Or does it?

Shay runs away, and Tally has to choose whether or not to follow her. Her choice will change everything.

The book is, simply, fantastic. The characters are more interesting and three-dimensional than those in 90 % of other YA books I've read, and the discussions of what beauty is are rather breathtakingly deep. You'd think it would be very simple - an operation to make everyone look the same sounds horrifying! - but there are some fabulous arguments regarding the body image of Rusties that make it sound almost reasonable. There are also some very interesting themes regarding friendship, love, loyalty, and conformity.

Although this is the first book in a quartet, it works completely as a stand-alone - the end is open, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys dystopian novels in any regard, and to anyone who ever thinks that the way we treat beauty in our society might be a bit messed up.
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HALL OF FAMEon 9 January 2006
UGLIES is one of the best children's SF novels I've come across for a year, and as it will get nothing out of its publishers but word-of-mouth I strongly recommend you buy it if you have a daughter going through puberty, because it dramatises the sick, looks-obsessed world we live in like nothing else. Tally can't wait until she's 16 and can be changed by plastic surgery into a Pretty, whose life like that of her best friend, will be filled with parties and fashionable clothes. In the future, everyone looks like a supermodel, and nobody stops to think whether this is a good thing - after all, there are no more wars, are there? But when Tally's new friend Shay takes off to live with the rebel Uglies, Tally is told she will never be made Pretty unless she follows the cryptic directions her friend left for her and betrays the rebels. This Tally is all set to do - until she not only falls in love but discovers just what the surgery awaiting her will do to her brain as well as her body.
Uglies is a really clever and pertinent dystopian fantasy of a kind that asks children whether they really want to give up their individuality to become a blandly perfect being. Exciting, fast-paced and easy to read it tackles the propaganda pumped out by glossy magazines and shows how ugly extreme beauty would be.
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on 11 April 2011
I was really looking forward to reading this book when I bought it, I thought the concept seemed really interesting. However for me it wasn't anything special. It wasn't awful, it had a decent plot and I liked how it confronted how society is obsessed with being 'beautiful', but I found myself not really caring about the characters. I'm 18 and I'm guessing this book is probably aimed at a very slightly younger age group than me. I'm not normally a person to nitpick at books but some things in this book just seemed to come far too easily to the characters, and I never really worried about the characters survival either, it just seemed like a given that the main ones were going to survive.
Overall it was a decent book but I didn't find it anything special. It'd probably be better suited for ages 10-16.
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on 29 September 2013
When I read the words `cat vomit` in the first sentence of Westerfeld's book, as he described the colour of the sky, I remember thinking: I hope this is not a taste of what is to come. But nothing came to merit those words, lest it be the opposition of ugliness to a standardised notion of beauty that underlies the book. I wonder why the author used them, especially in his opening sentence.

Writing Uglies must have been a challenge for Scott Westerfeld. Challenge? The difficulty is inherent in the central theme of the book: the glorification of a standarised canon of beauty imposed by surgical intervention. All teenagers, who are universally called uglies, have come to despise their appearance and yearn for the beauty they will have once they are sixteen and are operated on to make them "pretty". It is not easy to write a story in which most of the population's appearance and behaviour have been normalised such that there are few distinguishing features. There's a sort of faceless grin or grimace to the world. Even the baddies, when they finally erupt on the stage, look alike. No wonder the main character, Tally, and her new-found ugly friend, swim in a sea of faceless people at the beginning of the book. This narrowness of perspective and the flippancy of the two girls makes holding the reader's attention more difficult.

The story did however hold my attention from the beginning, although I did wonder what it was that gave it more rounded edges than many a dystopian novel. I suspect this is partly because the threats and dangers are only hinted at but are not personified or made present in the first part of the story. It is as if the girls can get away with anything without being caught (despite narrow scrapes). Nothing matters. They'll all be pretty soon.

The situation changes radically when Tally is forced to leave her shallow world and has to deal with people who have depth to their personalities and meaning to their lives, despite their `ugly' faces. Even the baddies take on a tangible form and their threat becomes real. From that turning point onwards the story picks up speed and breadth and the reader is carried away by its intensity. The contrast between these two parts of the book is its key articulation and therein lies the difficulty: how do you portray shallowness and flippancy at the outset, without leaving the impression that the story itself is superficial and discouraging the reader from continuing. Westerfeld took the risk and it paid off. A story well worth reading.
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on 22 August 2013
I was really excited to read this and after debating on whether to buy it or not I eventually did and I regret it.

The writing itself wasn't bad, the storyline was somewhat thought-provoking and it was a nice idea that does relate sort of to how people are now with physical appearance but this story overall is not good.

I kept feeling like there was a big mystery to it all, I kept feeling that there were going to be cliffhangers and something happening at the end to give you and enormous shock. Was there? No, nothing happened and it felt like the author was trying to write cliffhangers but they were so weak and brittle they disappointed me every time.

There was only one exciting piece that lasted all of two pages in the story and that was when the runaway doctors talked to Tally. The rest was padding and mostly about them travelling such as what bend they took on the hoverboard, how much food they had brought/ were taking, how much they didn't like the 'Pretties' it was all the same thing repeated over and over again and it left nothing to the imagination at all.

It would be a good reading book for a girl aged between about 10-12 for school or when she's out and about.
It does provoke some thoughts about how our world is entirely central on appearance and being told what to like from a young age and how to look.
The concept is fairly interesting.
The price on Amazon is cheap.

No cliffhangers.
No exciting ending.
Read the back cover and you've practically read the whole story anyway.
Nothing shocking happens, no drama it's all VERY PREDICTABLE and stereotypical.
It bored me so I read it as quickly as possible not wanting to leave it unfinished.
It isn't worth the money.

Is this a good read? No.
Should you be excited and rush to buy it? NO.
Will I be reading the sequel? NO.

I just wanted to point out I read this at 20 and I read A LOT of 'teen' fiction books and I have to say this one was right at the lowest end of the scale, whether I am too old for it or it just is that bad are up to you to decide. I do not recommend this book to anyone though.
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on 10 August 2006
On reading reviews of this book it seems only aimed at young teenage girls. As I am a 19 year old myself I also found this book fantastic. I couldn't put it down. I found it such as interesting read for in the insight it can give into the perception of beauty. I belive this book can be enjoyed by older and younger teens alike as they will see different things within the book. I came away with desperate to read the second book. I recommend it to all. My boyfriend is also currently enjoying reading it, so maybe it's not just for us girls?
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This is a clever, fast-paced and exciting novel that takes the current pre-occupation with beauty and jumps forward several hundred years to create a world wherein almost everyone gets an operation at the age of 16 to make them Pretty.

Scott Westerfeld envisages a cataclysmic event in the near future where the genetic mutation of oil sets off a chain of events that kills millions of people (known in the future as Rusties) and destroys cities. In Tally's world, people live in split cities, with the Pretties living in a non-stop partyland of appartment blocks and firework displays and the Uglies (those waiting until they turn 16 and can get the operation to turn Pretty) who live in dorm buildings, dreaming of how they will look after the op and offsetting their humdrum lives by playing tricks. On her way back from trying to see her friend Peris in New Pretty Town, Tally meets Shay, a girl who shares her birthday. Whilst they're waiting for the operation, they form a friendship wherein Shay teaches Tally to hoverboard and takes her out to the ruins of the Rusties' world to ride the tracks of a rollercoaster on their hoverboards. As their friendship deepends, Shay confides in Tally about the existence of a place called the Smoke (where people live who don't want to turn Pretty) and of David, a boy who can take them there. Unlike Shay however, Tally dreams of being Pretty and refuses to join Shay in searching for the Smoke. It's only after Shay runs away one night, leaving cryptic instructions on how to find her that Tally starts to learn about the more sinister side of New Pretty Town and the existence of Special Circumstances, modified and cruel Pretties who force her to find and betray her friend.

Westerfeld's writing is slick and tense and he effortlessly introduces the reader to his central concepts without ever going into turgid passages of exposition. I found it very easy to believe in Tally and her dilemma, not least because Westerfeld first introduces Tally's friend Peris who has already turned Pretty and who was Tally's best friend whilst they were both Uglies. Tally's search for the Smoke could have been long and drawn out, but Westerfeld keeps it fast-moving and whilst he places Tally in danger, he never over-eggs the pudding and also takes the opportunity to introduce further elements of world building - I particularly liked the idea of genetically modified orchids spreading out over the world, destroying the ecosystems and needing to be constantly flamed and beaten back by Rangers. I also loved his depictions of bungy jackets, hoverboards and belly sensors, all of which could easily have descended into MacGuffins in lesser hands but which never stop being convinving. Particularly poignant is his look back at the world in which we live in, and whilst I think his depiction of anorexia was a little too in-passing to be effective, it's nevertheless reassuring to read a book that does not equate being Pretty with being thin.

The Specials are an intimidating and cruel bunch and whilst I would have liked to see a bit more about Dr Cable beyond cold cruelty, the set-up is there for more development in the rest of the quartet, which I'm very much looking forward to reading. In fact, the way Westerfeld ends the book is a superb example of a how to handle a cliffhanger whilst resolving the initial storyline. None of the characters are left dangling on the page and you feel as though you've read a great story whilst also wanting to find out what will happen next to David, Tally and Shay. The only picky thing I can think of to say is that I wonder why Tally is so sure that her plan will work given what's already happened between her and Special Circumstances, which would seem to me to suggest that it couldn't. However like I said, it's a picky thing to say and it certainly isn't enough to put me off reading the rest. All in all, it's an excellent read and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
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on 25 December 2016
This book was okay, but I didn’t think it lived up to the hype. I actually picked this up from a charity shop after having read and enjoyed Zeroes, but I think that set my expectations too high because while this read was okay, it just wasn’t enough to impress me.

It’s pretty cool that Westerfeld used the YA genre to hold a mirror up towards our own society, and to use it to reflect on whether we spend too much time worrying about the way that we look, but it did also feel cliche in places. The worldbuilding was good, but because I didn’t like the world it was set in, that doesn’t really count for much. That said, in many ways that’s the point – that’s why it’s dystopian.

In the world of this trilogy, people are ‘ugly‘ until they turn sixteen, when they have an operation to make them beautiful. But it’s not quite as idyllic as it might sound, and our hero finds herself trying to get to the bottom of a mystery that plagues all of society. It’s pretty standard YA dystopian stuff, which explains two things to me – why everyone raves about this book, and why it didn’t really grab my attention. It just didn’t stand out. And I get annoyed by the front cover, which says, “Before The Hunger Games, there was… Uglies.” It doesn’t really sell it to me, because I haven’t read The Hunger Games and I have no desire to.

I actually think this would have worked better as a standalone. I mean, that’s how I read it, and how it’ll stay in my memory, because I have no desire to finish off the series. But the fact that it was written as the first book in a series was a turn off for me because I didn’t want to keep reading – if it had ended where it did, it would’ve been the perfect length, but it didn’t.

And so overall, I think there’s some potential here, but I can’t hold my hand on my heart and recommend this book over others. It’s the sort of thing that you should read if all of your friends have read it, but that you’re not going to enjoy so much if they haven’t. It’s also a good read if you’re into dystopian fiction or if you’re a young adult yourself.

If you don’t want to take the risk, then go for Zeroes – which is by the same author – instead. I felt like the characters were more developed, and the story was better.
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