In Tally's world, everyone gets to be Pretty once they turned sixteen. Model pretty. After the operation your only job is to have a good time in New Pretty Town. What could be the harm in that? Tally can't wait to turn sixteen and join her best friend Peris over the river. But then she meets Shay, a girl who doesn't want the operation. Instead, Shay runs away to the Smoke and Tally finds herself in a terrible position: either betray her friend, or never become Pretty.
Who remembers when Gemma Ward burst onto the fashion scene as a 16-year-old in 2004? Suddenly she was in every Vogue shoot and in every second ad in every glossy magazine, pouting out at you with her wide mouth and big baby blues. Ward is the very definition of a Scott Westerfeld pretty: she looks like an overgrown infant. As a species we're hard-wired to find babies lovable. And vulnerable. To want to protect them. And we react the same way to grown-ups who look like babies. But that's only part of it what it takes to be a Pretty. We're trained to react to symmetry, as well. Asymmetry often indicates genetic defects, and it's not to your evolutionary advantage to lust after someone who's going to pass on their defects to your offspring.
It's little wonder, then, that Tally Youngblood can't wait to be Pretty and see people's eyes melt when they gaze at her. It's also easy to see why a government would encourage people to aspire to little more than being beautiful and passive. Party people don't think much about overthrowings and revolutions, or murder and violence and theft. This I liked about Uglies. In this way it reminded me a lot of Brave New World.
Uglies is just begging to be turned into a film. Every scene is so cinematic. The lights and fireworks of New Pretty Town. The white orchid helicopter burnings. The fast-paced hoverboarding. Not to mention the Pretties. Wide-eyed, plump-lipped Pretties partying on rooftops and living the high-life.
But I have a problem with the stakes. Part I sets up the world, the Pretties, the bored uglies who are just dying to be Pretty. Part II is the escape, and the resistance. Part III, logically, should be the smack-down. The consequences for defying the rule of law. The Specials wreaking their revenge. The punishment. But it never comes. And right from the beginning I could tell it was never going to come. Tally just gets away with far too much as an ugly, and is then released without even a smack on the wrist. The way in which she's released is laughable, with nothing more than a "You better come back, or we Specials will be mighty angry with you, young lady!" And later, the consequences of the rebels being captured are no worse than getting turned into a Vogue model with some instant anger management classes--both of which are completely reversible! I just didn't feel the fear. Compared to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, it's nothing. Compared to Nineteen Eighty-Four, it's nothing. Compared to A Clockwork Orange, it's nothing. And though Westerfeld has attempted to recreate it for a modern audience, compared to Brave New World, it's nothing. The consequences are nothing. So I couldn't engage with the story like I wanted to, because I just wasn't scared for Tally and Shay. And it's even more annoying because the superhuman Specials have the scope to be genuinely terrifying, but in the midst of a battle they come across as little more than parental with their now, nows and their "I don't want to hurt you, but I will if you give me no choice". Pfft.
The way I'm talking you're going to think I didn't like Uglies. On the whole I did. I was just horribly frustrated by it at the same time. The story rallies in a major way in the last dozen pages, and because of that I'm going to have to read Pretties to see what happens to Tally and Shay. But I'm not in any screaming hurry to do so.