Uglies

Note: Uglies is the first book other than the instruction manual that I’ve finished on my Kobo. I read the entire thing in airports or on planes.

“a future world in which a compulsory operation at sixteen wipes out physical differences and makes everyone pretty by conforming to an ideal standard of beauty” (from Goodreads)

Uglies (Uglies, #1)Scott Westerfeld is the insightful genius who wrote Uglies. I adored this book for a variety of reasons:

  • The entire thing is social commentary and I love to criticize
  • It’s very original and the setting is creative
  • The character development is pretty good and that’s always key for me
  • the imagery is fantabulous

Summary

Tally lives in a world where everyone receives plastic surgery to look beautiful and almost identical. She makes friends with someone who introduces her to the possibility of life beyond the shallow world of parties she has been looking forward to after her mandatory plastic surgery that she will have on her sixteenth birthday. She turns down the offer, not understanding how anyone would want to stay “ugly” but is blackmailed into going along as a spy for the Specials who enforce the falsely beautified and ditzified life of the city. Her plans to expose the rebels dissolve as she finds that individuality and aging aren’t so horrible after all.

Awesomeness

Maybe it’s the English Major in me taking over but I have to talk about the incredible microcosm Westerfeld creates in the chapter “Bug Eyes”. 

There is a breed of flowers that is gorgeous that humanity manipulated the genes so they would thrive. I knew immediately that these flowers were symbolic of the “pretties”. The genetic manipulation of the flowers creates a monoculture, and there is no biodiversity anywhere they go. This is a major problem with the “pretties”, everyone is the same and no individuality can thrive. Not even those interested in the flowers (hummingbirds) can survive if the monoculture continues. This is seen later in the “pretties” who are all made to be objectified but they have their hormones reduced so no one wants anyone the way they would have, everyone is beautiful but no one is there to really appreciate that beauty .

The flowers are described as victims of their own success. They are “so beautiful, so delicate and unthreatening but they choked everything around them”. This is like the “pretties” who are attractive with big child-like eyes but create a society where no one can develop naturally.  In case someone misses out on the obvious connection between the flowers and the people Tally is later described as “a weed” .

The rebel hideout is in the Old Grove Forest, a place that can resist the weed and has biodiversity. This biodiversity is not only seen in the plants and animals of the forest but the rebel camp, where people have different eyes, hair, bone structure and skin from one another unlike in the city.

The most memorable quote of the book is found in the chapter The Oil Plague:

“Maybe they didn’t want you to realize that every civilization has its weakness. There’s always one thing we depend on and if someone takes it away all that’s left is some story in a history class”.

Westerfeld makes a number of commentaries about our society in his novel:

  • The ideals of beauty change dramatically over time and from culture to culture. There are always people who take it too far trying to reach these ideals either through plastic surgery, anorexia, obsession with fashion….
  • Real beauty is internal and physical beauty is often in the “flaws”. We are attracted to the flaws of others but don’t accept our own. (I really love crooked smiles, and freckles. Think about how many famous people have moles or dimples that make them memorable)
  • Individuality is often washed away by mob mentality and the desire to fit in
  • We are way too reliant on fossil fuels. I love when she’s like “why didn’t they just walk?” talking about our society that is car obsessed. Everyone goes on an on about me not having a car. 90% of the time I’m glad I don’t have one, I think if I did have one I’d be even more lazy and waste fuel when I could be walking instead of only using it when I got heavy things or travelled far. We need more public transit in North America, or rather public transit that doesn’t suck.
  • Adults often forget what it’s like to be kids, forget that kids have pretty amazing minds
  • Preserving artifacts of past culture is an important function of libraries. I know not every public library can keep old materials, we don’t have room or the tools to keep them in good condition but I think more novels that go out of print should have copies available at some library. We’ve moved to providing what’s popular rather than having balanced collections. I wish we could do both! $$$

E-Book Factor

This was my first entire novel read on my Kobo. I found it to be seamless, most of the time I wasn’t aware I was reading in a different format. A couple times I accidentally skipped a page by double clicking but I’ve had print pages stick together and it wasn’t much harder to backtrack. It was a pain that I had to shut down the reader during takeoff and landing (I was reading on planes) but it was wonderfully light to lug around the airports, fit nicely in the pouch on the back of the seat in front of me, and did not hurt my eyes like a backlit screen would. 

If I was writing an essay not just reviews I would be bothered by the fact that it tells me the chapter and page within that chapter but not page within the book. The quote I gave from the Oil Plague chapter was page 13 of that chapter but I don’t know what page overall in the book. This numbering may change depending on the book or publisher so I’m not sure I can blame Kobo.

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