To start off really quick, I want to thank the Lawrence Public Library for creating a fantastic flow chart of popular, dystopian Young Adult literature to consider, one of which is the center of this review and several to come!
Secondly, I will never apologize for the terrible, lame review titles that I love way too much, haha!
So what’s it about?
In our not-so-distant future, society has found a way to decrease wars and conflicts that arise from people’s differences. The solution: when everyone turns sixteen, they are transformed from their biological, Ugly selves into a standard form of Pretty. With everyone now looking (and thinking) the same, that should solve the problem, right? But sixteen year old Tally Youngblood, thrown into a mix of conspiracies, rebels, and secrets, soon faces a choice – accept the operation, or remain Ugly forever knowing what it really means to be Pretty.
From the very beginning of this book, I had high hopes. The opening paragraph just grabbed my attention:
“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit. Of course, Tally thought, you’d have to feed your cat only salmon-flavored cat food for a while, to get the pinks right. The scudding clouds did look a bit fishy, rippled into scales by a high-altitude wind. As the light faded, deep blue gaps of night peered through like an upside-down ocean, bottomless and cold.”
That opening was vivid, an intriguingly strange but unique description, and it made me think, “Oh, I’m going to like this, especially since Tally seems to have such an odd mindset!”
And, sadly, that’s where the problems began.
Tally was not nearly as interesting as I had thought she would be after that opening, not even close. And that was one of the major downfalls for me in this book.
That striking opening, with its clever visuals, was a unique passage compared to the rest of the book, where vividness shone through only after wading knee-deep through a bog of uninteresting and uninspiring language, descriptions, and characters.
Oh, the characters. Tally, I really wanted to like you.
Before I get any further, let me clarify what I like about Young Adult protagonists.
After all I’ve read, it’s important to me that the main characters have a defining trait that makes them stand out, that gives them a fun, unique personality. Call it being quirky, I guess.
I also love when a character has depth, serious feelings and emotions, and especially flaws. I love being able to watch a character make mistakes, pick themselves back up, and go on a journey to discover their own worth and individuality in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Basically, give me the nitty gritty, and I’m hooked. I desperately want to feel a connection with these flawed characters, because it gives me immense satisfaction to watch them struggle and eventually succeed.
Now, I won’t say that Tally doesn’t possess any of these qualities, but the fact is that she’s too simple! And by simple, I mean boring, uninteresting, a blank slate with shoehorned emotions and reactions.
It’s a shame, too, because I thought the premise was unique and rather fascinating. A world where children grew up believing they were Ugly until they could get the operation? That’s something I’ve never seen before! I wanted to understand this world more, feel more a part of it, but Scott Westerfeld just couldn’t quite pull it off, in my opinion.
Instead of immersing us in this world he created, he left readers dangling with too many questions about how it worked. Since we only learned things through Tally when it was relevant to what she was doing, the big picture took a long time to form, and some questions I had from the beginning weren’t answered until well past the halfway point – if at all. And since it was through Tally, it just felt…boring, with contrived plot points instead of a flowing narrative.
Interestingly enough, I liked Tally’s friend Shay better as a character. She was so much more dynamic than Tally, and much less indoctrinated into their society. I identified with her as she questioned society’s need to be Pretty, and didn’t want to conform in order to preserve an individuality that she didn’t really think was Ugly. In this world and its context, Shay’s divergent opinions were far more interesting than Tally’s mindless acceptance of reality.
I will say, however, that I can understand the need to make Tally this way, as she does go on a journey throughout this book and does grow as a character. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the ending, which I thought was a very strong conclusion to an otherwise mediocre book.
The end made me realize that there actually WAS a good story here – it had just been deeply buried underneath bad pacing, stupid scenarios, unbelievable characters and situations, and predictable plot lines.
Basically, this book could’ve used more editing. It was odd because it was like Westerfeld focused far too much on irrelevant or useless scenes and descriptions, and let all the important stuff happen off-page.
The result was that a good chunk of the middle of this book was PAINFUL to slog through. I actually found myself despising it because it was so boring and cliched and did I mention boring.
The phoned-in romance was the worst part. I know it’s a convention and somewhat of a necessity to have romance in Young Adult literature, but I like when it’s done with SOME semblance of credibility and uniqueness! To have uninteresting Tally inexplicably catch the eye of this guy, and have her fall in love with him after only a month where she has done nothing but lie to him was just really ugghhh. And that of course led to the hackneyed ‘liar revealed’ subplot in the end, which was predictable. Man, that guy was an idiot to not see this coming!
Anyways, I want to emphasize that there were really great elements in this book. Some of the ideas were awesome – like how Tally’s society made school field trips to the ruined skyscrapers of our world, what they called the ‘Rusties’ world because our rusty, metal structures were all that remained of us.
I was intrigued by the idea of ‘biological zero’ where we apparently engineered plants that ran rampant and completely dominated other species so that nothing edible remained, and vast areas of land became deserts.
I liked the concept of ‘oil bacteria’ that basically turned all oil combustible when it combined with oxygen, causing the resource we currently rely on to literally blow up in our faces and leave us grasping desperately for a solution.
The hoverboarding scenes were fun, and though I criticized Westerfeld’s writing earlier, I could imagine myself flying on them (even though those scenes became very tedious VERY fast).
And again, I found the initial premise of the story to be rather interesting and different from what I’ve read before.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t excuse the book its less-than-subtle social commentary, confusing and unfocused writing, terrible pacing, boring characters, predictable situations, and lazy editing.
I apologize if that was harsh. Like I said, I really wanted to like this book.
But well…you know what? I think plenty of people can enjoy this book. It might’ve been too simple and predictable for me, but the ending made me realize that it has the potential to get better – a whole lot better if you’re willing to forgive a few things here and there. I think this is a fine book for Young Adult readers, particularly those on the younger side of Young Adult.
As for me, I may or may not continue with the sequel, and though I can’t give this book a shining review, I applaud it for what it’s trying to do and think it could open a lot of eyes.
Uglies? I think I’m happy with the way I look right now.
I give this book 3.5 hoverboards out of 5.