Typically, I shy away from books with pictures of girls on the front that have tag lines, especially if those tag lines read: “In a world of extreme beauty, anyone normal is ugly.” I’d seen this book around, but every time, I looked at it and thought “Ugh. Chick book. Not my thing.” And walked on.
And then Inkling read the trilogy and was fascinated by it. And usually, when Inkling takes something seriously, it has to be good. (Since, as I’ve discovered over the years, she and I have similar tastes in books.) Still, it took me a while to get around to it, because every time I looked at it, I couldn’t get past the cover and the tag line.
Well, I’m glad it did, finally. Scott Westerfeld has written not only a good sci-fi/dystopian story, but a smart and thought-provoking one as well. The basic plot (the back cover blurb makes it sound like some dumb chick book): in the future, there are three types of people: littlies (those under 12), uglies (12-16), and pretties. When a person turns 16, it’s assumed that you’ll leave Uglyville (both literally and figuratively), and get the surgery that will turn you into a fun-loving, free-wheeling, extremely beautiful Pretty. Tally, with all her heart, want that. Until she meets Shay. Who doesn’t want to be pretty. She knows of a place — the Smoke — where you don’t have to become pretty, where you can stay ugly. Tally doesn’t understand this: who doesn’t want to be pretty?! But, Shay runs away, and then Tally is forced to make decisions that will change her life.
Really, it sounds silly, typed out like that, but if you knew the whole plot, it would ruin the point of the book.
Still, in addition to romance and adventure and typical end-of-the-world stuff (I loved all the descriptions of the Rusties), Westerfeld has some interesting observations about beauty and society. In fact, the whole book plays with our notions of what is and is not beautiful.
There was a certain kind of beauty, a prettiness that everyone could see. Big eyes and full lips like a kid’s; smooth, clear skin; symmetrical features; and a thousand other little clues. Somewhere in the backs of their minds, people were always looking for these markers. No one could help seeing them, no matter how they were brought up. A million years of evolution had made it part of the human brain.
Back in the days before the operation, Tally remembered, a lot of people, especially young girls, became so ashamed at being fat that they stopped eating. They’d lose weight too quickly, adn some would get stuck and would keep losing weight… Some even died, they said at school. That was one of the reasons they’d come up with the operation. No one got the disease anymore, since everyone knew at sixteen they’d turn beautiful. In fact, most people pigged out just before they turned, knowing it would all be sucked away.
Still, it’s probably a bit predictable, and maybe even a bit done-before (when I was telling Hubby about it, he said it reminded him of Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue). But for all that, it really was an excellent book.
Now I’m off to read Harry Potter. One week left…