Tally Youngblood is your typical 15-year-old teenager. She’s freckled, with squinty eyes and frizzy hair, and a tiny friendship scar on her palm. However, Tally–and just about everyone else in her world–thinks she is Ugly. It’s nothing personal; everyone under 16 is Ugly. They have imperfections that are all corrected at the magical age of 16 when everyone undergoes a series of operations that make them Pretty. And life for the Pretties is just one big party, where they all enjoy life to the fullest and have all their needs catered. They never gain weight, get zits, or have bad hair days. They just enjoy being pretty all the time. Tally is almost 16, and can’t wait for her operation, as all of her friends have gone before her. Then, just two weeks shy of the operation date she makes a new friend, Shay, who’s not convinced she wants to be pretty. In fact, Shay is pretty sure there is something seriously wrong with the Pretties, and Shay tries to convince Tally to eschew the operation and run away with her. When Shay takes off for The Smoke, legendary hideout of the other Pretty resistors, Tally is faced with a horrible choice– follow the clues Shay left for her and lead the government to the resistance–or stay Ugly forever. Tally’s choices and the knowledge she acquires on her journey send ripples of ramifications through the idyllic community she has always known, and nothing, including Tally, will ever be the same.
Uglies opens the door to great discussions of the virtues, especially among teen girls. Prudence and Temperance are explored both in the structure of the world that Tally lives in and also in the choices the main characters have to make. There are also hints of “the world that was” and the poor choices that its inhabitants made, discovered as Tally learns the history of her culture. Scott Westerfield leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that Tally’s “history” is our contemporary, which makes the virtue of our own lifestyles debatable. Tally, and most of the resistance, displays a great deal of Fortitude, which leads to discussions about whether Fortitude needs other virtues, such as Temperance and Prudence, to be appropriately applied. We also see Tally wrestle with Love and Loyalty, the tension between having Agape for someone and Phileo for another, and how the two can sometimes conflict with each other. Eros appears every time someone struggles to love and accept themselves for who they were created to be; that is, each time someone resists the surgery to become Pretty. Hope and Faith also play vital roles as you see the resistance, and even the government, act in ways according to their beliefs to try to make a better world.
Uglies and its sequel Pretties provided interesting interaction points with teen girls. We were able to probe into questions like “what makes someone truly beautiful?” and “What is too far when it comes to changing how you look?” We explored the cost of ‘beauty’ in our society, and discussed what really defines beauty. We talked about the character of a person and how that can affect how they appear. Community service connected with this novel involved spending the morning at a convalescent home for older adults. The girls helped clean rooms, sort clothing, and even did hair and nails for these beautiful older ladies.
If you have medium to heavy reading, you can easily complete Uglies and its sequel Pretties in one 12-week session. We also recommend finishing the series with the books Specials and Extras, also by Scott Westerfeld.