Thursday, March 25, 2010

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN-10: 0689865384; ISBN-13: 978-0689865381. 448 p.

Plot Summary
In Tally's world, when teens turn 16 they undergo radical operations to make them look like supermodels. Most teens long for the day when they can be beautiful, but a few radicals, called Uglies, resist the operations and escape into the wilderness. When Tally's friend disappears with the rebels, Tally is forced to choose between her friendship or fitting in.

Critical Evaluation
Westerfeld looks at the issues inherent in radical cosmetic surgery and its possible effects on society. In a world where physical individuality is ruthlessly stamped out, and conformity becomes key to survival, Tally's participation in a rebellion against a society determined to change her will strikes a chord with teens struggling with their self-image. The inclusion of next-generation media devices may also resonate with female readers who usually avoid science fiction. Although the book's tone can be didactic at times, this book, and the others in the series, is extremely popular with teens and is a required inclusion in any teen collection.

Reader’s Annotation
When Tally turns 16, she will be given an operation to become beautiful, just like the rest of the city's teens. But when her friend joins a a group of rebels who refuse the operation, Tally must choose between beauty and her best friend.

Author Information
Scott Westerfeld is the author of five science fiction novels for adults, as well as three young adult series: the Midnighters trilogy, the four books in the Uglies series, and three standalone novels set in New York. He was born in Texas and divides his time between New York City and Sydney, Australia. Scott is married to the YA author Justine Larbalestier, and blogs at

In an interview for Check Your Pulse, Simon and Schuster's book newsletter for teens, Westerfeld shares how he came up with the idea for his futuristic society where everyone is made pretty: "We are definitely heading toward a world in which lots of people will get to decide how they look. That will change what we think of as beautiful, and what beauty means to us. So some people stay the way they look, because that's cool or radical. Some won't change because they're rich and powerful—like when famous directors go to some fancy Hollywood restaurant in an old T-shirt and baseball cap; it shows they can get away with it. Other people will try to outdo each other, and manipulate themselves in ways that we don't consider remotely pretty right now.

So thinking these thoughts, I wanted to write a future in which these technologies were fairly common. And in my future, the local government forces you to have an acceptable face—that is, a certain kind of pretty face. Sort of like now, when adults try to control how teenagers dress, cut their hair, use make-up, and get tattoos or piercings. This is the stuff of rebellion." In the wake of recent tabloid gossip about TV stars getting multiple plastic surgeries at a young age, this idea is more relevant than ever.

Dystopian science fiction

Curriculum Ties
Sociology: constructions of beauty, integration of social networking on society.

Booktalking Ideas
-Description of the difference in teen life between life before and after the operation.
-Perspectives on beauty.

Reading Level/Interest Age
Grades 9-12.

Challenge Issues
Teens challenging authority.

Challenge Defense
Become familiar with the book before recommending it to teens with more sensitive parents.

I included this book because it's really popular with teens and I felt it was important to become familiar with it.


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