I need to never run into [a:Scott Westerfeld|13957|Scott Westerfeld|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1199748511p2/13957.jpg] down a dark alley, or during a Civil War reenactment, or at Charlton Heston's house, or wherever. My deep desire not to be arrested for murder would have an epic battle with my need to reach for a weapon when I see his stupid face. In all fairness, as you see, I coughed up three stars for this book, so I will clarify that my empty threatening is really directed toward [b:Pretties|24768|Pretties (Uglies, #2)|Scott Westerfeld|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348342316s/24768.jpg|1568076] and [b:Specials|24765|Specials (Uglies, #3)|Scott Westerfeld|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348343255s/24765.jpg|3278286] (books two and three in this series). I'm posting this review on the link for the first book in the hopes that it will inspire people to put this book on their list of books never to read. If you read this book there is the danger that you may want to continue with the series, but trust me, you really
In listing what I don't like about this series, I'll start with EVERYTHING from the characters to the plot to the worldview that I imagine would inspire a story of this kind of depth and breadth of ambivalence. The premise of [b:Uglies|24770|Uglies (Uglies, #1)|Scott Westerfeld|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1358962036s/24770.jpg|2895388] is that in the future when kids reach puberty, they all have mandatory plastic surgery to turn their bodies into a perfect standard of beauty based on human brain reactions to visual stimulus. Unfortunately (and this is a slight spoiler, so my apologies, but it really is an element that is pretty obvious from page one, though not clearly stated until later), when the kids are having the surgeries to make them pretty, the surgeons change their brains, too, to determine their decision-making abilities, capacity for independent thought, and even sense response. Basically, the pretty surgery makes most people stupid, unless the occupation that the government determines for them requires intelligence. So far so good - it's your basic government-takeover dystopia. Yes, kids, if you let the government give you free health care checkups, it's only a small step to the day they start chopping up your brain.
Luckily, said ugly teens (particularly our protagonist, Tally, through her bff, Shay) discover that if they flee to the wilderness, they will be able to live a life of freedom and romance. Oh, what's that? Did I say "romance"? Thanks again [a:Jean-Jacques Rousseau|7994|Jean-Jacques Rousseau|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1182863711p2/7994.jpg], [a:Percy Bysshe Shelley|45882|Percy Bysshe Shelley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1212686605p2/45882.jpg], [a:Ralph Waldo Emerson|12080|Ralph Waldo Emerson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1198519592p2/12080.jpg], et al. Sometimes when characters go out into the wilderness . . . I don't even know. Does the phrase "it's been done" even begin to cover my feelings on that topic? Thus begins the cat-fight between Tally and Shay that is the uniting thread of this entire series. You see, there is a wilderness boy (imagine my surprise), who is quite a catch even though he's "ugly", and there's some jealousy and betrayal and kick-ass hoverboarding. You get the idea.
Let me clarify the problems I have listed so far:
1. Suspicion of the city, using a retreat to the wild as the solution to social ills. It's a tired premise.
2. Cattiness of the female protagonist and portraying the central female character as mostly driven by her current crush and competition with other women. That is a huge pet peeve of mine.
Those, however, are small, forgivable wrongs compared to the basic disingenuousness of the moral arguments Westerfeld makes. While he on one level criticizes the idea of basing society on a hierarchy of physical looks, the characters repeatedly interact within that hierarchy, calling each other "pretty" and "ugly" at every turn and defining "pretty" people very specifically. Even the repetition of the words "ugly" and "pretty" undercuts any message Westerfeld might have against pigeonholing people. I found myself seeing people in the grocery store and evaluating whether they met the "evolutionary definition" of pretty as according to this series. It's creepy and annoying. Westerfeld can be as showy as he wants about how it is limiting to judge people based on their appearance, but I argue that he is actually encouraging that same shallow judgment if only by instruction and repetition. For example, it's like saying, "kids, don't shoplift, but here's how to shoplift if you ever want to do it. And here's a catchy shoplifting song to sing with your group of friends, who really should have a name. Hey, we could call you guys the 'shoplifting gang'! Don't shoplift, though." What's the real message there? Ultimately, the arguments of the government that requires the pretty surgeries, also, make a lot of sense in the stories. The surgeries solve anorexia, bring world peace, and save the environment. Plastic surgery sounds fun, too, and Westerfeld literally makes no compelling arguments against body alteration. At the same time, I'm left feeling that Westerfeld thinks it is a bad idea, though he is not convincing.
If Westerfeld's discussion of body image wasn't enough of a travesty, the point in this series where this backwards arguing makes me want to wipe him off the face of the planet is when he introduces cutting. By "cutting" I'm not talking about skipping school. If you are not familiar with cutting, it is a form of self-mutilation that has been growing in popularity with teenagers over the past few years (I'm going to go ahead and say it's been growing in popularity since 2006, when the book [b:Specials|24765|Specials (Uglies, #3)|Scott Westerfeld|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348343255s/24765.jpg|3278286] was published). In Specials, our catty female protagonist and her buddies discover that by slicing up their arms, they experience a particularly satisfying high, and all of their senses are strengthened. Ultimately, they randomly decide that this is a bad idea, but Westerfeld only implies their reasoning for that decision, and again I'm left with the feeling that probably everyone should be a cutter because in the context of the story it's pretty badass. I think that was the point where I started yelling and throwing things around my house.
Unfortunately, some parts of these stories are actually engaging (not seriously engaging, but passably), and for a while I wanted to find out what happened to everyone, even while I wanted to burn the author's house down. The truly unforgivable wrongs are his wolf-in-sheep's-clothing discussions of teen body image and self-mutilation issues. His characters never develop deep self-respect or intelligent motivation for their actions, and even when their decisions seem healthy, Westerfeld makes a better argument for the unhealthy decisions. Now I realize that I didn't even talk about the uber-annoying slang language he develops for the Pretties and Specials. I'll just say that these books are not "bubbly" and leave it at that.