This is another book I picked up simply because of one of my kids was reading it — Emma, in this case. It’s set in a dystopian future, and while the premise sounded very interesting, I had some concerns about how it would be developed, so I decided to read along with her so I could discuss it. We both found it interesting and there was lots to discuss, and there was nothing I found objectionable or offensive.
Uglies is set in a world that at first seems utopian rather than dystopian — our society has collapsed, but a new one has arisen built upon “sustainable energy, renewable resources, and a controlled population.” But it turns out that a controlled population means not just control in numbers, but control at many levels — the most obvious and bizarre being that when everyone reaches their sixteenth birthday, they receive drastic plastic surgery to make them conform to an ideal image of beauty. Children under sixteen (who are called “littlies” till they are 12, then “uglies” for their early teen years) are taught that making everyone “pretty” eliminates the differences and prejudices that made societies of the past so unstable. If everyone is pretty, no-one is ugly.
Tally is about to turn 16 and can’t wait to become pretty, but her new friend Shay has some different ideas: Shay wants to run away and join a group of rebels who refuse the pretty surgery and live on the outskirts of society. Once Shay defies the social order, Tally begins to discover the ugly secrets underneath their smoothly-functioning society; it turns out it takes more than just plastic surgery to keep an entire population docile and controlled.
It’s a great premise and mostly well-executed. Emma found it a complete, breathtaking page-turner; I found it slowed down in places but I was interested enough to keep reading to the end. Uglies is the first in a trilogy; the next volume is Pretties, which I haven’t read yet but Emma started and then laid aside in favour of a new book she was given for Christmas. I don’t know if this means it’s less intriguing or not. Uglies certainly provides enough material for parents and kids to have a lively discussion about society’s images of beauty, which is valuable discussion to have, especially with young girls. But if you want to find out how Tally’s story ends, you’ll have to continue with the series.