Tallying Up the World of Pretties and Uglies


REVIEW of Westerfield, Scott.  Uglies.  Simon Plus [Simon & Schuster], 2005. 425p $8.99 Paperback. ISBN 978-0-689-86538-1.  VOYA codes: 4Q 4P S

Uglie Tally has crossed the river, snuck into New Pretty Town, and made it back many times.  She has outwitted talking bridges, hovercars and more with her daring moves, technological dexterity, and stealth.  It’s been fun and exciting, but in a few days she’ll be sixteen and a prettie herself.  With surgery and nary a thought, she’ll join the happiness and parties across the river and reunite with Peris, already a prettie himself.  Little does Tally know that a glimpse of the natural world outside of the city with her friend, Shay, will change all this.

As Tally is forced by Special Circumstances to find the hidden settlement of the Smokes, there are engaging literary images of flight by hoverboard, worthy suffering, dangerous flowers, and the lure of the Smokes establishment, where ugliness is preferred.  Tally sets out to betray Shay and the Smokes, but once there Tally sees the ruins of 20th century society being picked through and turned into a hard but liberating way of life.  Her mission of betrayal becomes one of self-discovery and courage.

The reader accompanies Tally on her journey of arduous decisions about appearance, honesty, loyalty, deceit, love, and ethics.  This seems like a tall order, but the novel’s candor and readability make Uglies a literary vehicle through which teens can identify with the protagonist and be propelled through real issues – thrill-seeking, friendship, lying, metamorphosis, romance, regret, guilt, and choice.

Westerfield’s writing is straightforward with bursts of imaginative description.  The topics will speak to teens and help them gather an array of ideas to consider.  The length of the novel might prove challenging to reluctant or time-pressured readers, but the story is divided into three manageable sections.  Wondering and predicting what Tally will do next will hook any teen who faces real life decisions.

Storyline: character-driven, issue oriented, open-ended

Pace: intensifying

Tone: angst-filled, emotionally intense, thought-provoking

Writing style: candid, engaging, thoughtful

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