For every book we read during the book club, one of our book club members will write a review. This way anyone who couldn’t be there, can still join in with the fun! Our eleventh YA book is the Uglies Quartet by Scott Westerfeld and the review is written by Gwen Kerkhof Mogot.
Scott Westerfeld’s The Uglies Quartet, a classic in the YA-dystopian genre, was our summer read. I added the four books to my pile of Holiday Reads and the promising blurb “Before The Hunger Games there was… Uglies” lured me into reading these novels first. Westerfeld’s fast pacing writing style describes a post-apocalyptic world that is divided between Pretties and Uglies. Pretties are people modified by plastic surgery to be strong, healthy and of course, be beautiful. Based on scientific study and evolution theory Pretties are supposed to be the new and better human race. The surgery occurs on your sixteenth birthday and before that you are an Ugly. As the title implies Uglies are human beings (children actually) who have not been modified, who carry the imperfections that are common (but not desirable) such as spots, every YA’s nightmare. This set-up promises interesting reflections on our current beauty-standards in describing a world in which the ideal has become the measure. Food for thought during my holidays, that is for sure.
Tally Youngblood is our whimsical protagonist and we meet her when she is still an Ugly, eager to become a Pretty. But when she meets Shay, another obstinate teenager, Tally learns “about a whole new side of the Pretty world – and it isn’t very pretty”, as the blurb on the cover of the first book tells us. Tally and Shay join the resistance and do their very best to fight the government and convert others to the ‘ugly forever lifestyle’. Although more action-packed than reflective I thoroughly enjoyed book I in the series and I moved straight away to part II.
Part II introduces us to a Tally who has become a Pretty. Not only her body is modified, but her brain as well. She is programmed not to worry and be meek like a sheep. Actually, Tally is enjoying the Pretty life with its parties. But her Ugly-past is trying to tell her something. Tally is fighting the urges of her modified brain and slowly Tally becomes her normal self again. She discover a complot and tries to escape her government and return to the resistance. At this point a rather confusing love-triangle is introduced, which seems to be a thing in YA-dystopia.
Book III follows the same premises, but this time Tally is modified from Pretty to Special, an extraordinary new kind, designed to kill. Disappointedly, it follows the exact plotline of book I and II and at this point I am really annoyed with Westerfeld’s repetitive story. Tally seems to be unable to make up her mind: join resistance or follow the dictatorial government’s wishes. True, time and again her brain is modified so Tally is hardly able to think for herself. But why don’t we learn more about how the resistance attempts to build a new world? It would have been far more interesting to read how Tally would have battled to change the modified brains of other Pretties. Tally has proven her abilities, why test her again with the same formula only with another stronger evolutional human being?
Book IV, an extension of the story which was supposed to be a trilogy, is appropriately called Extras. Now, I do have to nuance my critique a bit: Tally does unleash a revolution at the end of part III. Extras shows us the post-apocalyptic world after Tally’s revolution. Refreshingly Westerfeld introduces new protagonists to us and leaves Tally in the forest, only to appear at the very end to save the world (yet again). This world still deals with body-modification, but leaves out the brain damage. Instead, Facebook has become reality. Credits (money, food and other things to survive and function in society) are earned by the number of ‘likes’ (views, in this case) you have. Consequently, everything is visible. Of course, this new world also has a counter-movement, a resistance like group, that does not want to be viewed (or liked) and tries to operate in secret. Quite difficult in a world where everything is followed by cameras. An interesting interpretation of ‘Big brother is watching you’, not initiated top-down by a dictatorial government, but bottom-up by the people themselves. Aya, like Tally before her, is fully participating in this world until she meets the Sly Girls who do not want to be known. At first she attempts to uncover this movement, but gradually Aya learns the disadvantages of fame.
I was pleasantly surprised that book IV offered a bit more than just the action packed story of the previous two parts. However, like part I, it promises more than it offers. Westerfeld has focused too much on action, playing the cat and mouse game leaving out the interesting questions he could have asked. Tally does not develop as a character, and yet there has been time to do just that. FOUR BOOKS, each about 400 pages offers enough time, I would say. The Uglies Quartet was, quite literally, a page turner, but I did not enjoy it as much as I hoped. To read or not to read? Book I and IV: YES, MAYBE. Book II and III: NO.