Uglies, Pretties, Specials & Extras: Westerfeld’s Dystopian Series

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Uglies: The Series is a four book series by Scott Westerfeld that I recently finished. As a dystopian future for the human race there were weird surgeries and technology we’ve never heard of before: hoverstruts to hold buildings up, crash bracelets to stop you from hitting the ground too fast, and becoming “Pretty” or “Special”. Of course this is only a few examples of the differences between life as we know it and this series, but there are enough similarities to today’s culture that you’re not left in the dark as to what’s going on.

Let’s make it simple: there are “Uglies”, “Pretties” and “Specials” that are involved in the first three books. You start off following Tally Youngblood, an Ugly (someone who is young enough to have not had the surgery to become “Pretty”) on the verge of becoming Pretty. During the first book, Uglies, Tally is looking forward to one thing—being Pretty. When her only friend runs away from the city, she’s threatened with the possibility of not becoming Pretty if she doesn’t help the Specials from Special Circumstances find her friend. Needless to say, she’s a very confused fifteen, almost sixteen year old girl who doesn’t know what to do or what she wants. By the end of Uglies she is a very different girl than what she started out being. In Pretties, the second book of the series, it follows Tally as she tries to make it back to what she was in the first book. She’s been forced into a position where she doesn’t want to be and the entire book is her struggle to get back to being herself—at sixteen years old. In Specials she has been caught going against the government, and so there were serious repercussions which included a form of brain washing in the form of surgery on her brain. Her entire body has been made into a weapon for Special Circumstances by this point and she’s got a love/hate relationship going with it. The third book follows her trying to help her boyfriend to be like her, to be a Special. This book was a bit more a struggle to get through, as Tally’s whole mindset has changed so it isn’t the same character you felt you had grown attached to in the previous two books. It was the last of the four books, Extras, that Westerfeld pulled out of left field. For one it follow Aya Fuse, who was from an entirely different city. So Tally didn’t end up showing up until halfway through the novel. This meant it was difficult to get into, but with the same surroundings and terms that were used in the first three novels, you were still able to find your feet. Overall there were many different struggles within this series: the struggle to find yourself and who you are; the struggle to be original and an individual; and morality—of rights and wrongs. There were many more, of course, but these three touched me the most.

The struggle to find yourself and find out who you are, what you stand for is one that every single person goes through. It’s usually in their pre-teens or teenage years, when they try on different styles and experiment with every aspect of their being to see what suits them best. This is shown with Tally especially, but you see it with Aya Fuse in the fourth book as well. While Tally is on a pursuit to just be herself (no matter what that means), Aya knows exactly what she wants and just needs to find a way to get there.

The struggle to be original and an individual is seen through Tally’s constant rebuffing of what other people say she is. They say she’s selfish and she wants to be as selfless as possible. They say she’s a perfect fit for Special Circumstances and she doesn’t feel like she fits in. With Aya Fuse you watch her look up to her older brother, but still find things about him that she doesn’t want to duplicate. She’s firm in wanting to be her own person and make her own decisions, she wants to make it by herself. This isn’t just a struggle in the book, it’s also very apparent, especially in today’s culture, where everyone is trying to make it big for doing something and that something needs to be unique in some way.

Morality, or rights and wrongs, are difficult to develop regardless of what kind of culture you come from. Everyone has different views and they all think that their way is the only way, so it’s hard for teens to figure it out without finding their limits the hard way. That’s exactly what is happening in all four of the books in the Uglies series. The worst part is that for Tally, her actual brain is being changed to believe different things, so not only does she have to sort it out the hard way, but she has to fight against her own brain in order to do so. Aya’s is more straightforward, with some people believing one option is the correct one and others believing that the other is best. So Aya needs to figure out what she believes and make her own decisions.

I would give Uglies: the series by Scott Westerfeld a 4.5/5 stars. Not only would I recommend this action/adventure series to pre-teens and teens, but it’s a good lighter read with an exciting plot for adults as well. Granted, if you’re not into political commentary as well as dystopian futures you probably won’t find this read to be entertaining in the least. I really believe that the depth of character and the depth of the world that Westerfeld has created in these novels is enough to make anyone think a little bit about what they’re reading and if such a world is possible.

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